As the year comes to a close, Hive asked some of our favorite music writers to talk about excellent 2011 albums that went unrecognized.
Friendly Fires’ second album has come and gone with the kind of fanfare that suggests there won’t be a lot of people waiting on a third – it peaked at #152 on Billboard’s Top 200 and to put that in perspective, Real Estate debuted at #52. That’s totally understandable. These things tend to happen when you wait three years to capitalize on your fleeting buzz, especially if most of that buzz comes from something they were only debatably responsible for (the Aeroplane remix of “Paris,” originally from their 2008 self-titled debut) and an astoundingly awful video for third single “Hurting” wasn’t, um, helping. And yet, the inclusion of Pala on this list feels like it has to be some sort of mistake, a malfunction of XL’s major label machinery. Are we sure that “Blue Cassette” and “Hawaiian Air” and “Hurting” weren’t worn into obnoxious ubiquity all summer? How did so many people decide that a Daft Punk & Oates hybrid wasn’t exactly what the game’s been missing in 2011? It wasn’t for Friendly Fires’ lack of trying, and while I can explain its chart failure no more than LMFAO’s chart success, it’s that eagerness to please that likely kept Pala away from year-end lists besides this one: this record is just not cool. At all. Not even “anti-cool” cool.
But that’s sort of the point of an album that begins with a song called “Live Those Days Tonight,” and continues to be every bit as guilelessly joyous as a high school kegger that inspires you to say things like “Live those days tonight” and mean it. Indeed, blurring lines between samplers and guitars, and club and rock music wasn’t novel in 2008. It surely isn’t now. But Friendly Fires distinguish themselves by never forgetting their prior incarnation as an emo band – thrills like this can only come while skirting the edge of embarrassment. Listen to similarly-minded dance-rock acts like Cut Copy and Delorean. They’re grounded in the kind of electronic music appreciated by connoisseurs of the genre, and it they off as earnest and humorless jetsetters. Friendly Fires made a ridiculously catchy single about getting loaded on a commercial flight and watching a movie about a talking dog.
The only catch is that you simply need to meet Friendly Fires on their own profoundly extroverted, maximalist terms. Ed MacFarlane almost always belts out the title in a breathless rush of falsetto, song structures bottle up and explode to megaton choruses and all of it’s tricked out by overblown but absolutely perfect production from Paul Epworth. You just don’t get populism of this magnitude anymore from rock bands, which is why they can get away with clear nods to “One More Time” (“Blue Cassette”), bob-and-weave disco (“Hurting”) and total Jock Jam nonsense powered by bleacher-stomping drums on “Show Me Lights.” Best yet is the foolproof sequencing, which follows the blueprint set by Bleed American (another classic from a highly unfashionable band that made terrible videos): banger x5, slow jam, banger x5. This isn’t rocket science and yet few records really shot for the moon as shamelessly and successfully as Pala.