Album: Friendship – Love the Stranger review

by Philip Moss

There is nothing immediate about Friendship. And there in lies the beauty of this very special band.

There’s something apt about Oliver Wasow’s 1998 photograph adorning the sleeve of Friendships’s new record. Taken from a collection simply titled Travel Pictures, it depicts a road that could be headed anywhere; a sky that appears to be clearing up ahead, but could just as easily be about to cloud over; and what looks like a petrol station facing a ramble of trees and wasteland. Its moody ambience doesn’t really have a focus, and it could be anywhere: any one of a number of towns and cities that the band have driven in and out of over a near decade journey to date.

Much like The National’s mid-naughties’ transition from the bedroom run label, Brassland, to mega indie, Beggars, Love the Stranger marks Friendship’s move from one of America’s most special labels – Owen Ashworth’s Orindal – to the heavyweight arena of Merge, and it could not be more deserved. Especially when they have a record this good to mark it.

Being freed of the drum machines of their 2017 record, Shock Out of Season, allowed natural progression on 2019’s Dreamin’, and room for Dan Wriggins’ poetry to dictate the pace. Space is certainly a recurring theme on Love the Stranger. Bradford Krieger (Horse Jumper of Love, Ian Sweet) has perfectly captured the Philly four piece’s brand of alt-country – Hank being just one example of a song that is bright, but won’t necessarily get under your skin via a flashy chorus, but, instead, via a looseness that chips away through repeated listens.

Wriggins has a knack for writing words that zoom in on the minute details of his day to day existence and interactions.‘It sucks when it ends, and it sucks when it has no end,’ he sings on Ugly Little Victory – just one example of a line that feels as equally throwaway on first listen, as it does deep on reflection. His words are often made up of broken, overheard conversations, local references and big ideas – but also have a sloganeering quality that could make a great t-shirts for the merch table.

There is a co-operative spirit that’s always run through Friendship’s music, and continues here too. Keeled Scales’ act, Tenci, lends her unique voice – taking on lead vocals – on second track, What’s The Move. Drummer, Michael Cormier-O’Leary, sees his acoustic noise experiments (Love’s, UDF and Kum & Go) expertly sequenced throughout the record – offering momentary respite from Wriggins’ poetic wanderings. A new revised take on the title track from Wriggins’ debut, cassette only EP, Mr Chill, feels a perfect connection to the story so far. And if you aren’t familiar, guitarist, Peter Gill, is also lead singer of 2nd Grade (and incidentally was the auteur of one of 2020’s best albums, Hit to Hit) along with bassist, Jon Samuels.

There is nothing immediate about Friendship. But it is for that we should be thankful: on repeated listens, the ways that Love the Stranger buries itself deep into your conscience is what makes it the best, most perfect representation of band to date.

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