Where we’ve been, Where we go from here – Friko

RiYL: Cage the Elephant, Bright Eyes, The Unicorns
Recommended Tracks: “Where We’ve Been,” “Crashing Through,” “Until I’m With You Again”

I’ve been to Chicago twice — once to see someone important to me, and later to see The Microphones with them. Soon it’ll be two years since then, since the day I stepped off the blue line at O’Hare and looked back as if to tell it goodbye, and as that realization has taken root alongside the knowledge that I’ll be graduating and moving not long from now, I’ve started to worry helplessly about these years: about what I left behind then; about what I’ll leave behind next; about where I’ve been, and where I’ll go from here.

When I heard Friko for the first time it was at the epicenter of that crisis, which according to Spotify happened three weeks ago. A Pitchfork list put me onto them, and cautiously I checked out their sole EP (on streaming), “Whenever Forever,” expecting it to be yet another showing of BCNR-flavored indie rock, and—WOAH WOAH WOAH, HOLD UP, THIS IS REALLY GOOD!?

Within two songs I knew I had to hear their debut, set to release a few weeks later, just for the chance to hear more music like this. Their sound was a beast, a new species that could at one moment be manic art rock, at another symphonic alt rock, and at yet another serenading indie, all in one EP; it reminded me of Cage the Elephant at their best (you know which album I’m talking about), but still totally unique in its own right. Once I found out that they were from Chicago, and that that EP had come out just two weeks after I’d departed, the emotional solace I took in their music became that much more personal, and my anticipation of their album that much stronger.

Where we’ve been, Where we go from here is almost everything a Friko fan could have dreamed of, and I say “almost” to set up my sole major criticism of this album, which is the runtime. 36 minutes is not long enough for something this consistently good; cut any of your favorite albums down to that length and you’ll immediately see what I mean. Of course, this is their debut, and there’s no better way to hook an audience than to leave ‘em wanting more, but until they come back with a new album (or a deluxe (please)) I will continue to feel personally affronted by this.

Even with just nine songs, though, Friko displays not just an evolution of the sounds set up by their EP, but an array of new ones as well. “Chemical” is a punk explosion, engineered to generate mosh pits with a tempo that embodies the stress of crossing a hyperspeed intersection, barely dodging vehicles along the way. “Crashing Through” is the sound of being inevitably hit by one of those cars and waking up in a hospital, your forehead covered by a large bandage and pierced with a throbbing headache that just – will – not – go – away. And then “Statues” is a nice little loner anthem, with some pleasantly distorted guitars and drumwork.

Despite the steep differences in energy between some of these songs, there isn’t one that feels for a moment out of place among the others, and that is what I found most impressive about this album. It achieves a unity of tone that most bands simply miss on their debuts, a balance that only accrued skill or an artist’s eye can engender. Friko speaks in one interview about alternating between loud and quiet songs live, such that fans will at one moment be raging through the crowd, and at the next stopping to hide their tears. Thus, it makes sense to see this practice carried over to the album (which was, in fact, recorded live.)

Mastered by Heba Kadry, who you probably know from Big Thief’s “Dragon New Warm Mountain” or Björk’s “Utopia” (or Alex G, damn), this record’s live sound was given a professional sheen, one which makes it sonically beautiful whilst maintaining the charming roughness of the original recordings. In this way, “Where we’ve been, Where we go from here” becomes perfect as a comfort album, which is what I ultimately hoped it would be. 

There are some incredible lo-fi projects out there, which hit because of how unrefined they are, but they always seem to feel stuck in the feelings that they’re expressing, like a diary entry written during a breakdown. A properly mastered or engineered album, on the other hand, can feel more like a reminiscence on those days of pain, or a memoir; listening to a record like “Hospice” or “High Violet,” one starts to feel that their own heartache can be conquered, seeing how those bands were able externalize theirs into crystallized, delineated works of art.

Thus, when I listen to Friko’s “Where we’ve been, Where we go from here” and I remember the good days of Chicago, and I look at the life I have ahead me after graduation, that grey morning fog which keeps everything further than an arm’s length out of sight – when I listen to this album, I feel less worried about those years. I feel comforted on an almost purely sonic level, as I know hardly any of the lyrics or themes beyond what the title suggests, and that’s such a rare and exciting thing to encounter in music. Friko’s debut is simultaneously an instant click and a definite grower.

Though I still have hang-ups about the runtime, that doesn’t change how good the songs that did make the cut are, and the fact that they are this good when the duo is still so early into their careers shows that there is only one answer to this criticism – to wait and see what they come up with next.

Where we've been, Where we go from here - Friko


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