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Friends – Manifest!

on June 05, 2012, 7:58am

With the ring-a-ding-ding of a triangle and a funktastic bass line, Brooklyn band Friends introduced itself. “When you see me walking around with him, I’m not just another chick/I’m his girl,” Samantha Urbani brags on “I’m His Girl”, the single that catapulted the bedroom R&B act to mass listenership last year. “Mind Control”, Friends’ even funkier follow-up single, received similar blog-fueled buzz and was recently selected as “The Hottest Record in the World” by UK radio program BBC Radio One’s Zane Lowe. It’s the ideal start to a career, and the band is riding that momentum as it releases its debut full-length, Manifest!.

Friends weave together warm synths and exotic percussion to create their own brand of downtempo funk. Urbani keeps it low-key, never screaming, wailing, or attracting too much attention to herself. On opening track “Friend Crush”, she yearns for a companion whom she can turn to for advice. Her lyrics avoid melodrama and stick to the insignificant, relatable elements of a relationship. She comes off as the ideal girlfriend—sassy yet chill.

Give Urbani a strong melody and she’ll toss it around with the swagger of a veteran pop-singer; however, take away those hooks and she struggles, unable to carry a song with her voice alone. This comes down to songwriting rather than ability, and the latter half of Manifest! lacks the melodic peaks of its A-side. “Ruins” is an awkward post-punk throwaway that derails the album’s flow before segueing into a pair of meandering tracks (“Proud/Ashamed”, “Stay Dreaming”) that eschew cohesive song structure for mood. Fortunately, the inclusion of the aforementioned singles (“I’m His Girl”, “Mind Control”), established hits in their own right, balance out these weaker moments.

Although it’s top-heavy, Manifest! is a strong debut and proves Friends isn’t just a singles band. It’s a group tapping into an elusive (and seemingly contradictory) middle ground between dance music and relaxing ambient-pop (think Air’s Moon Safari). Urbani wrote these songs when she was an introverted bedroom songwriter, afraid of sharing compositions with her friends, much less the world. Now that she’s an established frontwoman, it’ll be interesting to see where she goes next.

Essential Tracks: “Friend Crush”, “I’m His Girl”, and “Mind Control”

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