A couple of years ago I made a 14 hour car journey up to Scotland. 5 o’clock in the morning, cramped between a ridiculous amount of luggage, freezing cold…by the time we reached somewhere near Yorkshire I was more grateful for my ipod than you could ever imagine. And then Postal Service came on and for the first time I think I understood what music that makes your head spin really sounded like. The syncopated syndrum beats pop and snap in your ears, surprising and confusing with every unexpected refrain. This is music that distorts what we think we are about to hear…but amazing all the same.
And the opening chords of Friendly Fires‘ new album Pala induce a similarly brain-numbing response. Just as their self-titled 2008 album refused to be pigeon-holed to a particular genre, Pala combines dance, punk, 80s synths, silky smooth melodies and Friendly Fires’ characteristically mental percussive arrangements. There is a lot that is right about this album and Friendly Fires for sure they have tackled head on all the pressure that comes with producing the follow-up to such a successful record. The opening track and new single ‘Live Those Days Tonight’ is an unashamedly nostalgic look at the rave scene of the 1980s (see the video for some seriously questionable vintage dance moves) and proves above all that Friendly Fires make great dance music because they are big fans of great dance music.
The follow-up single ‘Hawaiian Air’ (already named as the Anthem of Summer 2012 by Drowned In Sound) is another stand out track that particularly showcases Ed Macfarlane’s vocals – faultless and impressive in both the powerful soaring choruses and the smoother, subtler parts of the album. ‘Hurting’ feels like a funk reworking of some terrible 80s pop song….but somehow it works and similarly ‘Chimes’ and ‘Show Me Lights’ show that they have not forgotten how to take a simple pop melody and transform it to a great dance-crowd pleaser.
The high point of the album however has to be the title track ‘Pala’. Named after Aldous Huwley’s imaginary utopian society in Island the band appropriately break even their own rules with a much slower pace and simpler accompaniment. This approach is wholly successful and marks the progression between albums – Macfarlane’s vocals take on an almost ghostly quality aiding the effectiveness of more poignant lyrics: “And we couldn’t care/ If we die here, die here/And we couldn’t care/ If they flick the switch/ And took the rest of this”.
All in all this album has a much more highly polished sound than the debut. A little bit of me misses the rawer sound, cheeky lyrics and handclaps of ‘Photobooth’ and ‘In the Hospital’ but I guess a more grown-up, sophisticated sound is only to be expected from a band who have experienced such massive success in a relatively short space of time. It is sure to send festival crowds insane all over this summer and is an equally good listen as the revision kicks in – a fantastic follow up album, head spinning stuff indeed.
Released on 16th May 2011 by XL Recordings.