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Friends “Let’s Get Together Again”

by Patrick ST. Michel

Special To The Japan Times

In an interview with The Japan Times in May, Friends frontman Syouta Kaneko put forth U.S. band The Beach Boys as one of their influences. A glance at the artwork for “Let’s Get Together Again” — found photos of people enjoying the summer — or any blog writeup of Friends’ sound (“beach,” “surf” and “bikini” pop up a lot) would paint Kaneko’s band as just another set of Brian Wilson worshippers. Yet Friends doesn’t sound like other contemporary groups mimicking “Pet Sounds.” On their debut, the band submerges 1960s-inspired surf melodies in feedback — perhaps the sound of kids born circa “Kokomo” rather than “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” trying to capture the sounds of a bygone age with fuzzy results.

“Let’s Get Together Again” is dotted with great pop melodies. The opener, “I Think I Love You,” nails teenage-longing guitar rock, while “Make It Better” hula-hoops around some great vocal work courtesy of Kaneko. But it’s all achingly simple; Friends seem keen on The Beach Boys’ sound but lack the complexity found on “God Only Knows” or the vocal harmonies elevating pretty much everything else (record highlight “Our Love Is True” comes close, though, with its opening chorus of multiple Kanekos).

Then, enter the feedback. It’s a force that adds a layer of intrigue to otherwise skinny songs. The noise rubs up against the melodies without overpowering them, turning what could have been a pleasant head-bopper like “Since I Made A Mistake” into a trippy beach relic. “You Are So Dirty” imagines surf rock in an oil spill, and on “Good For Us,” Kaneko’s vocals work extra hard to break through the mucky distortion, making them extra strong. Balance is key, though. Too little noise turns the first half of “Someone New” into a snoozer, while too much noise on closer “Cruel Sea” drowns out any of the catchy parts, reducing it to sonic sludge. But most of “Let’s Get Together Again” treads the line just right. The resulting clash of innocent pop with feedback makes for a deeply interesting album hiding some great pop hooks to boot.