Three long years ago, Friendly Fires lit up dance floors and iPods around the world with their insanely catchy brand of blogosphere-approved dance rock. Jammed with infectious tunes like “Jump in the Pool”, “Skeleton Boy”, and “Kiss of Life”, their self-titled debut won them a Mercury Prize nomination and comparisons to everyone from the Klaxons to New Order. This time around, the St. Albans, UK, trio seem pretty intent on forging their own path, and with good reason. Countless indie dance bands seem to have materialized out of nowhere in the past few years–contagious lead single, cute haircuts, and post-punk smart guitar lines in hand–only to be chewed up and spit back out by the ever-unforgiving Internet hype machine (no reference intended). Right from the start, zesty first track “Live Those Days Tonight”, Friendly Fires take care to prove they’re capable of much more than just moving feet.
And capable they are. Even if you factor in the expected sophomore album blues, Pala is one of the most downright exhilarating records you’ll hear all year. Even in those rare moments in which they stop grooving, the (relatively) downbeat R&B of the title track for instance, it’s only seconds before things get wild again. While it was one of the best dance records of its year, Friendly Fires had nothing on the buoyant dance parties the trio’s live shows grew into once the band began to find their footing. That’s not to say that this album is too far off from its predecessor, though: “Show Me Lights” might be Pala‘s “Jump in the Pool”, its most conspicuously bubbly pool party anthem. The track’s jaunty boy-band stylings demonstrate a bit of a shift for the trio, if you will, a move out of their debut’s beachy daylight into the late-night gleam of neon lights.
The trio don’t seem to have grown too much since their acclaimed debut, but you’ll be grateful every time the progress shows. The joyous worldbeat rhythm on “True Love” and the vintage house finesse of “Hurting” bear another notable shift: You can actually hear Ed McFarlane’s voice. Considering the added depth it lends the trio’s tunes (see the *NSYNC-ish harmonies on the aforementioned “Show Me Lights” and McFarlane’s sophisticated croon on “Pala”), the change is much welcomed.
In Pala‘s brilliant opener, “Live Those Days Tonight”, McFarlane & Co. have penned a sharp anthem for every “been there, done that” the so-called New Wave revivalists must have attracted from members of the stuffy, old guard after their first record, singing razor-edged lines like “You claim your history is beyond a man like me” with surprising barb. Yeah, you could tag Pala as any number of things, but there’s no arguing that this is anything but pure, unadulterated fun.