words by tom johnson
Just as that old proverb talks of walking two moons in someone else’s moccasins, perhaps the true test for any record is to consume it in a variety of situations before laying judgement on its worth oneself. Which is to say that the songs that intertwine themselves within Friendship’s new mini album, FV Hope, have spent the last few weeks half-hidden in my shadow, then consuming my entire focus, following me thoughtfully, reliably, through recent personal toils, through the changed scent of holiday air, through quiet rooms in strange new houses; as soundtrack and companion. These songs didn’t need repeated listens, feeling ingrained within my own story, somewhere, somehow, from the very first listen, but these miles I’ve travelled with them have solidified the abstractness in ways that only the most special of records do.
Introduced, crushingly, instantly, by the distant devoted cousin to Bonnie Prince Billy’s ‘I See A Darkness’, opening track ‘Rich Man’ is a gripping entrance, a bare-boned country song for these ages, a life tethered and frayed but holding on resolutely. Lyrically plaintive, the subtle sway that carries those verses, presenting them to the chorus with cracked palms, like a horse led to water, is a thing of quiet magic that could ache the hardest of hearts.
From that somewhat rich and antiquated start, the record shifts to the cold, grey light of modernity, scattering little references of this new world, far from river-bound stallions, with its new words and phrases – “Seen but no reply”, “So hit me up if you come around” – in to songs that don’t really feel ready for such things; like finding yourself as the last piece of a puzzle that already looks completed.
Love, and the subsequent fallout from it, is the key protagonist here, from longing for a space to be filled, to watching such a thing fade out of view. ‘Bicycle’ is a tender pining for a day that never happened, the memory of someone cycling elevated to a fairytale where the narrator not only joins them but where their very love ends up riding away together. Then comes those two present-day tracks, a pair of songs that feel somewhat more downtrodden than the two which precede them; “You didn’t wish any harm on me, and you did not wish me well…you wished me nothing,” Dan sings on ‘Seen But No Reply’, with an underlying prickliness that is strikingly palpable, while ‘HMU’ is that gut-churning feeling of missing someone articulated beautifully through song, the strained sentiments tumbling out one way and then the next as they meet no answer, finding no voice to bounce back off that might allow their own utterance some kind of dignified formation.
In these four tracks alone there is a weight of poignancy that could inhibit even the most wide-eyed optimist, however closing track ‘Fine’ takes the whole thing to even greater levels of emotive wandering. Decorated with beautiful lap steel adornments, it’s five-minutes of heart-sunk country music, that scorched but tender voice, like it’s been drinking nothing but solitude all these years, raising itself just enough to be heard above the clouds of desolation, to tell whisper only that everything is fine. Weathered by the seasons, a lazy eye cast back over the goodness found in FV Hope’s opening track, ‘Fine’, and in fact that his whole record, has to be felt rather than simply read about; the kind of songs that can splinter the fabric of a day, grey light flooding in where there previously was none.
How often you lit the way, when the way was darkening
I don’t mean to exaggerate, Of course I had misgivings
But it was always fine by me
It was always fine by me
Exquisitely constructed, with warm vocal decorations from Abi Reimold, and recorded with Evan from Russel The Leaf, Friendship has crafted something staggeringly essential simply because of the weight of the atmosphere; the richness of its character, the indescribable nature of the solitude that clings to every word like a fog that just appeared one day, showing no signs of ever leaving. In short, this is a small, quiet group of songs so subtle and evocative that to sit with them just once is to find a friend for life – and I plan to never forget them.
‘FV Hope’ is released tomorrow, via Sleeper Records
Pre-order on tape/digital here