Album Review: Friend or Foe - Deviant Desires

After a release party on Friday the 23rd Shanghai mainstays Friend or Foe have graced us with their official 2nd album "Deviant Desires" which comes approximately 2 and a half years after their first offering "My Claw is Never Limp!"

Known for the energetic live performances and greasy dance/ punk stylings "Deviant Desires" seems set to expand upon what made the band so noticeable with their 2011 debut. Fans of the band will be happy to know that the album has conquered the pitfalls of the "difficult follow up", firstly by intensifying the eye-brow raising album art and also by expanding upon the gritty raucous sound of the band without compromising its potency.

It is fair to say that Friend or Foe are one of those modern rock groups in which a multitude of styles and influences are synthesised into a technicoloured stew without it seeming intentionally so. In this way the band bare a resemblance to fellow Shanghai band Stegosuarus? with regards to the humour of the music but toned down ever so slightly with regards to the genre hopping.

If you're new to the band you could almost class their sound as being a funkier child of Devo without the techno-nerdiness and well…occasional high mindedness. Devo of course were concerned with de-evolution of humanity in the modern age and a band like Friend or Foe could be the result…No po-faced political messages, no tortured soul searching indie ballads…just immediate hard rocking tunes delivered with intensity.

This immediateness is often what makes Friend or Foe so good. Take for example the opening track "into the Void". Not so much as a drum roll before you're launched into a razor sharp distorted guitar line that, if played too loud, really will scorch your speakers. The track then winds snakily through funky passages to grundgy bridges….basically you could play a game of guess the influences but the track is so tightly arranged that it is over before you could call them out.

Tracks 2/ Cravin' and 3/ Girl, with it's almost oriental guitar lines are both more accessible tracks in terms of funkiness and a slightly (only slightly) softer guitar tones. Both of these tracks could be obvious choices as singles for the record in the way that they wouldn't sound out of place on the next hip American teen drama show… not an insult, just saying….

It is the 4th track on the record where the band takes its first major stylistic turn. The track Radio Silence in both its lyrical and musical context seems to reach back to the late 1960s psych rock, particularly invoking the ghost of Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd with its megaphone vocals lost in a sea of fog, tape echo guitars and ghostly vocal harmonies. With a rising psychedelic guitar mid-section this is one of the best tracks on the record!

Whatever styles the band try their hands at, harmonically Friend or Foe are very direct with their pentatonic riffing which infuses all the songs with a certain antiquity of Rock n' Roll. This is also matched in the vocalist Rabshaka Shakala's delivery. All this positively has helped to tie the album together successfully with a consistent greasy aesthetic.

The only songs which don't quite survive this cohesiveness are 5/ Discount Salvation and 7/ Attica! a 50's Rock n' Roller and hardcore punker that are a little too rooted in their respective styles that they kind of kick the listener out of the flow of the record. Not to say that they wont bring a wry smile to your face or go down great live…which they most certainly must!

Other genre exercises are however more interesting, such as 8/ Curfew which somehow manages to contain rapping, sampled horn stabs, funky filtered bass lines, 60's spy guitars, David Byrne-isms and an auto-tuned chorus all in a 3 minute pop song…Bizarre, kinda silly but definitely interesting…This along with the half drum machine/ half live drum tracks of 11/The chosen the band have really excelled at spiking their arrangements with new sonic elements without getting in the way of the accessible poppier side of their music.

The only contention, if there was one at-all, in the bands music would be how sometimes the lyrics come very, very close to being too intentionally silly or in some cases trite. Such things as the penis references and well…shouting "Daddy issues" are going to divide listeners depending on how tee-hee-hee' they like their brand of humour…The Classic heavy rocking closer to the song saved it for me.

Elsewhere on the album you will hear certain rock lines that do kinda sound like they came out of a Rock n' Roll rhyming dictionary….
"you know you wanna do it, there's really nothing to it"
"one for the money, two for the show"
"Girl if you only knew what I do to you"

However, to read these lines as somehow being a tarnish on the bands lyrics would be short-sited as they must be intentionally obvious choices…rather than that this is one of the rawer, straight-up characteristics of the band which will challenge listeners. Noel Gallagher once said, "don't be afraid of the obvious because it's all been done before" and Friend are Foe are admirable in how well they wear that quality for all to see.

As indeed you can hear the band pulling in all the funk, psych, punk, dance and heavy metal and more into their sound, it still remains the immediate catchiness of their music which hides their stranger qualities… not the other way round…which is something so tricky most bands simply cannot do…

Check it out:

Words by Mark Hodnett