Friendly Fires, ‘Pala’ – First Listen

Friendly Fires’ forthcoming second album ‘Pala’ is released on May 16. Here’s our track-by-track response upon hearing it for the first time

Everywhere they go, they take the weather with them, and as if to herald the first fumbling fingers of spring, the return of Friendly Fires hits us like a warm sun on the back of the neck. As you’ll know by now, new album ‘Pala’ is named for a doomed utopia from an Aldous Huxley novel, an island fuelled by educational drug use, tantric sex and parrots trained to squawk positive slogans.

In places, the St Albans boys’ second sounds as blissed out and mystical as that suggests, but this being Friendly Fires, in others, it’s bug-eyed and manic and making us as skippy as newborn lambs. Like, I just bought a paddling pool for the NME Towers roof terrace…. Dip your toe in.

Live These Days Tonight
They did well to introduce ‘Pala’ with one of its biggest rushes, scaling cliff-face builds and drops before hurtling out over sun-glinting water. The sexily shunting rhythm, robo-electro midsection and gauzily gorgeous chorus is the sound of complete shrieking serotonin-saturated synapse-overload at a beachside party at 4am in a paradise where people wear shorts with no shame.

Blue Cassette
First impressions of ‘Pala’ are that it’s less full-on in-your-face intense dancepunky than the debut, glossier and classier, cowbells left in the cloakroom. Here a distorted sample clearly meant to echo the image of Ed Macfarlane finding and old cassette tape in his back garden, a relic of memory buried in earth beatified by a big sky-kissing chorus.

Friendly Fires

Running Away
Rolling and bell-tinged with a spiraling synth line curling around Ed’s falsetto, this becomes a bit like Blondie’s Rapture if covered by er, The Rapture.

Hawaiian Air
The first time I heard this I thought that the lyrics were completely freaky-deaky psychedelic: “Looking at mountains through the fog/Watching a film with a talking dog”. Then I realized it was about watching a kids film on a plane rather than experiencing mystical visions while sat in cinema in next to canine blessed with the power of human speech.

Driven by an insistent awooga-wooga siren motif and a tribal drum pattern it’s bright eyed and awake, evoking the feeling of watching cirrostratus from above with no cares to weight you down beyond what to buy from the duty-free trolley. Ed’s “skipping the meal for a G&T”. Always the best course of action.

Parpy-disco-funky, this is like Royksopp doing a Kool & The Gang impression, alternately as cheesy as afrowigs and as sleek as Afghan hounds, with that chorused, falsetto and deft build-and-drop timing that defines the sound of ‘Pala’.

The title track is a moody slow shuffle slow jam, stuffing lotus flowers in its mouth as it reclines on chaise longue of synthy reverb, Ed crooning “I couldn’t care if we die here”.

Show Me Lights
Probably the second plumpest banger after ‘Live Those Days…’, this is a saucy, glossy, preening R&B with fat-bottomed drums and bird-of-paradise falsetto coos, weirdly reminiscent of George Michael’s ‘Fastlove’ by way of Kanye at his poppiest.

Friendly Fires

True Love
Slightly sleazy, nightcrawling slap bass here with a nasty disco-Stones vibe althought Ed claims, butter-wouldn’t-melt, “all I want is to feel true love”. A breakdown of oddly metallic and brittle piano and spiraling synth cascades up into the ether.

Pull Me Back To Earth
Sonically the opposite to its ground-bound title, Ed’s falsetto and lapping and cresting waves of silvery synth aim for the heavens with some yacht-funk guitar work.

The trancey samba beat here is closest to the debut album, Ed’s voice more muted and melancholy than elsewhere on what seems to be a lyrically downbeat tale of loneliness on New Year’s Eve. We’ve all been there; rubbish whisky and no one to kiss.

Somehow, though, FF’s titular twinkles and train-track shuffles make it sound like the ending of a film just before your beloved has a sudden epiphany at the airport and dashes back to the party and everything is ALL OK FOREVER.

That 90s George Michael vibe again, mean and moody and mirror-shaded, this closes the album on a dreamier tone, a slower rhythm cushioning with burbling bass and billows of rippling synth as Ed invokes that Freudian link between the ocean and the unconscious: “The sea won’t stop returning at your precious core/As it overpowers, pulls you to the ocean floor”.

Subtler and classier than their debut, ‘Pala’ it still knows exactly how to bring the party; it’s just that now they’ve learned how to present the party to maximum effect. Friendly Fires on a cake stand if you will.