Homogenous mall music
It’s been eight years since indietronica outfit Friendly Fires released their last album, Pala, and two years since they hinted at a comeback. Finally, the wait is over; their third album, Inflorescent, dropped on August 14th. While their previous works were heavily indebted to ’80s dance music, they incorporated elements of alternative rock which made their music more engaging than their contemporaries. But on their newest album, they’ve dropped any allusions to their indie influences and opted for a straight pop record.
There was clearly a lot of attention given to the production on this album; it really shines most when the instrumentals come to the forefront. The drum sound on this album is especially impressive: drummer Jack Savidge’s kit sounds warm and alive, which is a nice change of pace from the typically sterile and compressed drum sound that one would expect from a dance record. The sound palette is dialed up to 11 throughout this entire album, and while this admittedly becomes grating after a point, there are several instances on this album where Friendly Fires crafts some truly engaging sounds. The track “Run the Wild Flowers” is worth a listen, if only to experience the distorted organ which occasionally pops up, most notably right before the 2-minute mark.
The biggest grievance about this album is how unapologetically uniform it is; every song, save for the marginally slower “Cry Wolf,” maintains a similar tempo. There’s very little in the way of melodic diversity, and several songs on this album (“Can’t Wait Forever,” “Silhouettes” and “Kiss and Rewind” specifically) contain variations of a “ba ba ba” vocal hook at some point. As mentioned previously, while the instrumentals are the strongest aspect of this album, they are severely marred by the vocal stylings of frontman Ed Macfarlane. While he’s never been the most versatile singer, his voice usually fits in well with the group’s more eclectic and experimental work, but it feels unimpressive and lackluster in the context of this straightforward dance-pop record. For instance, track ten, “Almost Midnight,” is a fairly enjoyable nu-disco jam until the minute mark, when Macfarlane dips into some flimsy falsetto in the pre-chorus which really kills the flow of the track.
Overall, this album isn’t terrible, and it’s a far cry from amazing; the only word that can really sum this up is “forgettable,” which, perhaps, in this case, is arguably worse. At the end of the day, this album probably won’t elicit a strong response from anyone outside of their core fanbase. After eight years, one would expect Friendly Fires to release something a little more refined and in line with the indietronica sound they’ve been associated with, but unfortunately, Inflorescent has more in common with the Jonas Brothers than Liquid Liquid.