It’s a shame that the album was released in the waning days of August, long after it had the ability to become a staple of parties and bonfires.
Dormancy makes some bands change in unexpected ways. For British dancepunkers Friendly Fires, perhaps “unexpected” isn’t necessarily the right word; after their self-titled debut, the band released 2011’s Pala, which put both the “dance” and “punk” pieces of their genre into a more effective blender, producing something not quite as dynamic as that of, say, Hot Chip, but engaging as hell nonetheless. In the eight-year gap between Pala and their newest album, Inflorescent, they’ve chased the former of those two genres by collaborating with the likes of Disclosure and FaltyDL, their sensibilities being pulled further into the realm of shiny, capital-D Dance music.
And so, Inflorescent is a Dance record, but in being one, it loses all of the charms that made the band engaging in the first place. Pala was able to balance out these urges with enough grime to give their music character, but devoid of this, it’s hard to find anything to – if you’ll pardon the Disclosure reference – latch onto. It’s not that these songs aren’t fun; from the kickoff of the infectious “Can’t Wait Forever,” Friendly Fires are clearly having a blast, which helps carry you through every moment. It’s a shame that the album was released in the waning days of August, long after it had the ability to become a staple of parties and bonfires.
If you’re on your first couple listens of Inflorescent, you might read that last sentence and think, “Maybe it could stick around until next year!” After all, these songs are undoubtedly danceworthy, but it’s hard to imagine it having any staying power; In fact, this is the band’s first foray into forgetability. The album’s back half is a somewhat generic slog, as we watch songs like “Almost Midnight” and “Run the Wild Flowers” come and go without anything to separate them from every other dance-pop album out there. In becoming more indoctrinated into the house music world, they robbed themselves of everything that made them intriguing in the first place, and worse, sound like they’re playing stylistic catch-up with the rest of the dance-pop pack while doing so.
There are moments where you can get glimpses of the best-case scenario for being entrenched in that world. The aforementioned Disclosure show up to assist with the bouncy “Heaven Let Me In,” while the buttery-slickness of the Friend Within-assisted “Offline” comes in clutch with the album’s most addicting horn section – and its best display of depth. Much like !!!’s recent album Wallop, with roughly the same hit-to-miss ratio Inflorescent has (though !!! packs more personality into even their worst songs than Friendly Fires manage with their best), you have to wonder why the band didn’t work a little harder to bring the rest of the album up to that level of quality. Friendly Fires are a far newer band and can be forgiven for making a dud – one can only hope that they come back from this misstep with something that has far, far more personality than this does.