Noise Annoys: Brand New Friend return with Grandstand
Words on the new album from Brand New Friend, re-scheduled dates for Robocobra Quartet and an ode to Derry from Colm Warren...
Brand New Friend – Grandstand (album, Virgin/Third Bar)
WE KICK off this week with the new record by one of the most admirably irrepressible and relentlessly enthusiastic young bands around, Brand New Friend, who have weathered pandemics, label changes and puberty (just kidding) to bring you the loooooooong awaited follow-up to 2018's debut album Seatbelts for Aeroplanes.
When they were last reviewed in this column, back during peak pandemic times, the fresh-faced Castlerockers had just put out A Cure for Living, an EP/mini-album which found them already pushing beyond the excitingly frantic teenage lust/heartbreak-fuelled indiepop/punk rampage of their pleasingly unfiltered debut.
A mere three years on, Brand New Friend bring us their second album, which they've jokingly referred to a few times as their 'third' album. Nothing like the complete absence of live music for months on end during a life-changing global pandemic to really make you (re)consider what you want your next musical opus to sound like, eh?
A sweaty and triumphant show at the Limelight last July served as a confidence-building sneak peak at some of the new tunes which have now escaped out into the world as Grandstand – its title track sadly not BNF's rendition of the classic theme tune from ye olde BBC sports show that was surely off the air well before any of this band of 20-somethings were but a glimmer.
Instead, it's a softly swelling, gently grooving indiepop ballad packed with pretty, chiming guitars, mellow synths and nightmarish references to exploding jet planes and underground trains: a veritable showcase for carefully considered 'slow-build' dynamics which smack of a band instilled with newfound songwriting confidence.
Indeed, while Grandstand's overall sound can certainly be described as 'mature' compared to Brand New Friend's positively fizzy/fizzing debut collection, we should expect nothing less from a group of ex-teenagers who have grown as people, performers and songsmiths over the intervening (whisper it) five years.
The press notes for the album mention Taylor (vocals/guitars), Lauren (keys/vocals), Logan (bass), Luke (drums) and Aaron (guitar) taking inspiration from artists such as Pavement, Interpol, Mike Skinner and The Thrills (hey, three out of four ain't bad) while exploring "themes of loss, family fall-outs, influential women throughout history (Betty Ong, Anne Frank) and imaginary conversations with Jimmy Fallon", and taking in "shifts across time and place, from contemporary New York City bathed in sunlight, a desolate Co Donegal in 2001, and, briefly, occupied Germany in February 1945".
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Crucially, they've successfully exorcised the relentlessly plinky-plonky electric piano/organ that was all over much of their Seatbelts for Aeroplanes, replacing it with a broader palate of synth and keyboard sounds/moods to better serve the songs at hand.
The pretty yet brooding indie balladry of Zero also rings the sonic changes with its dreamy, trumpet-tinged sound, characterised by the familiar brother/sister harmonising of band-leaders Taylor and Lauren Johnson, who also combine voices to fine effect on Open & Shut's wistful ode to the frustratingly fleeting nature of life, love, friendship and the rest, which swoons, soars and builds masterfully – a future single, methinks.
Lauren's first ever songwriting contribution to the band, the uber-catchy anthemic ode to fast friendship that is Talk It Out, was deservedly chosen to be the public's first taste of Grandstand. It finds her taking the lead vocal, with Taylor jumping in for a counterpoint verse, a device that works so well that they turn it on its head for the emotive, sing-along friendly love song, If You're Looking For A Sign.
Album opener, Dino, motors along in the pleasing push/pull, steadily building manner of The National in peak Alligator/Boxer-era indie rocking mode, as does Lucky, which pounds and rumbles along pleasingly, driven by Logan and Luke's muscular rhythm section.
Those panning for 'key influences' amongst these songs might also occasionally sniff a whiff of Pavement about Taylor's vocal cadence near the end of the record's epic, lighters/phones in the air centrepiece, Stars Bleed, though the pop/rockness of this life and death number itself is more Snow Patrol than Steve Malkmus.
Grandstand saves two of my favourites right until the end in the form of Taylor's stripped-back heartache/break ballad, Hey Blue, which combines a dreamy Hawaiian/desert island feel with an intriguingly retro, Skeeter Davis-esque vibe, and the climactic atmospherics of The Dream We're In, which starts off softly sung and romantic before gradually intensifying into what sounds like it might well become a set-ending, crank the amps and leap into the audience kind of finale on the band's upcoming tour.
Five long years in the making, Grandstand has been well worth the wait. It's out right now and can be had from all your favourite streaming platforms, record shops and indeed direct from the band themselves via brandnewfriendz.bandcamp.com – but what of that tour, I hear you ask?
Well, it begins next week in Cork at Conway's Yard (September 27) before taking in Whelan's in Dublin (September 29) and our very own Limelight here in Belfast (September 30) before leaping across the Irish Sea for dates in England and Scotland.
Let's hope they don't leave it another five years until album number three/four.
Robocobra Quartet at The Limelight
ON THE subject of awesome local bands playing at The Limelight, jazzy punk/skronk oddballs Robocobra Quartet were supposed to have a show there this very night (provided you're reading this on a Friday) – but sadly they've just had to cancel both this Belfast date and Saturday night's Dublin show at The Grand Social "due to unforeseen circumstances".
However, before you smash up your copy of Living Isn't Easy in disgust/despair, be advised that both dates have already been rescheduled for February next year – February 10 (Belfast) and 24 (Dublin), to be precise – which will be upon us before you know it. Sure there's already mince pies and Christmas trees in the shops, for goodness sake.
All tickets remain valid, but contact the venues for a refund if you know you won't make the new dates due to scheduling clashes or an impending prison sentence.
Colm Warren – Truth (single, self-released)
FINALLY for this week, what better way to round off than with a good old-fashioned sweepingly romantic love song?
With a little help from guest vocalist Maeve Smith, Derry singer/songwriter Colm Warren has penned and performed this boy/girl vocals led, piano and string-enhanced acoustic ballad as an ode to a 'reluctant' love affair, with lyrical references to the walls of his native Derry – though with its simple yet infectious hook line "truth is, I'm in love with you", the song's sentiment is ripe to resonate well beyond the walled city.
Don't miss the interpretive dance-packed video which was filmed at familiar locations around the city, and if you like what you see/hear then be sure to check out the rest of Colm's stuff at Colmwarren.bandcamp.com.