Friday, September 21, 2012

Album Review: Ex Friends - No Wonder We Prefer The Dark

Album Rating: B/B+
As of late, music has felt just a little too polished. Radio-friendly pop is built on layers of computerized synths to the point where a lot of the songs are indistinguishable. Rock adds electronic, industrial sounds on top of guitars and vocals that sound a bit too perfect to be believable. Alternative utilizes dreamy strings and piano lines to craft an ethereal yet intangible quality that moves frustratingly away from the crunchy guitars and smashing drums of yesteryear. While the excessive polishing can (and often does) lead to some fantastic music, there's just something endearing about raw, jagged singing and instrumentation that's definitely been lacking recently. The classic, frenetic sounds of "screw it all" punk and hard rock have been abandoned in the recent trend towards a smoother brand of pop-punk and a proven-to-sell method of alternative metal. It's quite disappointing that music that's rougher around the edges is becoming harder and harder to find with the rise of skilled producers and sound engineers.

With that in mind, Ex Friends is a welcome find for anyone looking for that special brand of raw music, made with the unique kind of dismissive love where the band only pretends not to care in order to create some fresh, heartfelt punk. Their latest EP No Wonder We Prefer The Dark is a five-song collection barely topping ten minutes, and from start to finish the singers yell, the guitarists crunch and the drummer bangs the skins in a way that's been missed for a long time. Right from the beginning it's obvious that the EP is packed with energy and punk goodness, especially on "The Legend of the Holy Drinker." Lead singer Joel Tannenbaum sings a duet of sorts with bassist Audrey Crash that spends most of the song assuring someone, "You'll be OK." It's an entirely simple idea, with repetitive guitars, drums, and lyrics. And yet, despite sounding like it could have been written and recorded in about an hour, it's surprisingly powerful and incredibly catchy. The way it doesn't rely on anything that's incredibly imaginative or ornately crafted is attractive in it's own right, and the fact that Ex Friends can create such a fun tune with such a minimalist approach to songwriting is a positive trait that's carried over through the entire EP. The lyrics fit perfectly with the music, too. The words aren't quite poetry, but lyrics like "We are your friends / We are your ex-friends / We used to be best friends / But now we hate you" mesh so perfectly with the "don't care" attitude of the songs that the whole punk experience of the EP immerses the listener in the music much better than a lot of other music out there today.

There are unfortunately a few minor problems with No Wonder We Prefer The Dark that keep it from being a near-perfect record. First of all, the songs do feel formulaic after a while. The idea of "Let's start with guitars, add in the drums, get Joel to sing a verse, add in Audrey for the chorus, and do another verse and chorus" is fine for a couple of songs, but it really hinders the lasting value of the EP. Also, the raw edge gets a little grating at times. As much as it's really refreshing to see a band almost entirely skip the production phase of recording, at times I wish Ex Friends would refine their sound just a little bit, like in "Archeologists of the Future," where a cleaner guitar intro gets torn to shreds with a distorted guitar and growling vocals. Overall, though, No Wonder We Prefer The Dark breathes new hope into the thought that maybe, just maybe, music doesn't have to be polished till it gleams. After all, there's something about pure, almost uncaring punk that just makes people smile.

Facebook/Twitter/Buy EP

Track List:
1. The Legend of the Holy Drinker
2. Ex Friends
3. So Many Kisses
4. Archaeologists of the Future
5. Waimanalo Confidential

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