Album Review: Friend Roulette, ‘I See You. Your Eyes Are Red’
With some bands, hyphenated musical descriptors work well enough when you're trying to paint a picture of the music they make. In exceptional cases, though, music transcends genre, and describing its surface features in terms of style just won't do.
Brooklyn-based seven-piece Friend Roulette is the latest such case to come along. On paper, Friend Roulette make highly sophisticated chamber/orchestral pop mixed with rock and jazz, but the songs add up to much more than their constituent parts.
In purely clinical terms, Friend Roulette weave together violin, bass clarinet, electric guitar, bass, and two drumsets into seamless arrangements that convey slow-building urgency akin to film scores -- only shoehorned into music that works as pop. Clearly, Friend Roulette know how to stretch and explore, but they also show a sense of economy and precision -- not to mention a natural instinct for lacing the music with intense emotional payoffs -- that put the band in a class by itself.
Where their chamber pop peers all too often make music that comes across as an academic exercise, Friend Roulette have a rare gift for songs -- no matter how ornately decorated or involved they might appear. Which is to say that listeners who might not otherwise enjoy a band that uses classical instrumentation like violins and bass clarinet will be able to connect to this music at its essence.
Friend Roulette set themselves apart in the imagery department too. The vocal melody on "Gardens Tidings" rings with an air of playful taunting, almost like a horror movie score based on nursery rhymes. The band can go from sinister to haunted to longing and -- on "Feed," for example -- makes disenchantment sound rather enchanting.
Arguably, any band that connects with you does so more because of some intangible quality at its core, not just because of its external markers. I See You sets the bar for what every band should aim for, i.e: a creative process where the alchemy of combining different ingredients fosters a sound too distinct, too invested with a life of its own, to fit into any one category.