School Friends – Coma – Album Review
I’ve been waiting to get to this one for a while now! Something about the cover of the School Friends album and the laundry-list of players on the album gave me the suspicion that this was something I was going to potentially enjoy very, very much. No one that knows me would argue on my behalf that I’ve just been in extraordinarily good moods over this past month…it just hasn’t been the case; what has been the case is that here towards the end of the year we have truly been finding some extraordinary albums, bands and artists – it’s been amazing. Inspiring to say the least…independent music-scene, you rock my world and I simply find a new and beautiful way to love you each and every day!
Today’s reason has a lot to do with the laidback rhythms and melodies from the album Coma, by School Friends – it’s just about the easiest album to listen to that I’ve heard this year. It’s an incredibly warm recording…and much like bands I love like The Yellow Dress, Pavement, The Head And The Heart and Modest Mouse – School Friends have a sweet, effortless sound that really combines the complex & the innocence of music in stunning ways. There are moments on this album that should bring you to tears…moments on Coma that should make you cheer out loud…moments of genuine emotion that cannot be faked in music made as sincerely as this is. Coma is an album containing absolutely zero weakness – these are twelve fantastic tunes expertly created, played & produced; and if you like a helping of additional heart within the pulse of your music – this one beats as strong as a lion’s roar.
The playful & invitational sound of the opening “Homestretch” is beautifully-unique instantly through the music. As it breaks-way to reveal a gorgeous melody in the vocals and beat…it’s still the recording on the synth-keys that rings through awesomely for me in this tune. Joel Hinojosa already reveals himself to be the brilliant song-writer he is on this first tune…and this album only progressively gets better as it plays. A true nod towards Pavement, “Nonexistent” is a brilliant tune…I love the sound of Joel’s voice…this is a singer I connect with big time through his tone & emotion. Excellent brass breaks through…could be trumpet, could also be French horn…you’ll have to forgive me, they have both within the THIRTEEN members in the band, but it sounds excellent alongside the drums and beautiful violins. Over repeated listens…I was able to confirm it was one of my favorites from this album for a certain fact, but truthfully I fell in love with “Nonexistent” right away…I love the loose-feel & swagger to the beat of this song…sounds perfect to me.
And then, with the entire band in the key of smooth, “Backwards Habits” begins to shine a light on just how relevant the style & sound of this band is right now. Again similar to the sentiment found in bands like The Head In The Heart, Band Of Horses…maybe even a little Beck tossed into this third cut…the track wanders with its head hung low in a melancholy melody & emotional set of lyrics once again delivered by Joel. Violins, check, yep, gorgeous once again and they get a golden moment to truly shine in a beautiful solo. Outstanding guitars and simply stunning from every angle from verse to its sparkling chorus, Joel finds the perfect way to bleed these words out into the microphone with that perfect indie-oddness that somehow describes exactly how we feel. Loved it.
“Buried” puts out a gentle & tender vibe…Lance Allen takes a moment or two to remind us about how awesome Mandolin can be…and this is another example of lyrical excellence on the album. “Buried” has the perfect bending of notes and strain on the tone in just that perfect way that never fully breaks, just like Malkmus or Brock can do. Joel is bound to captivate the imagination of many through his imagery and exceptional lyricism…and the fact that the music is of equal-caliber is a true testament to what it takes to make an album feel & sound complete.
With a feeling like the lights just got low and you’re sitting up late at night with the best of your friends around last-call, “Two Cents” is a sweet little isolated tune. Jenny Coker takes this song to the next level by joining in with perfect harmonies – these two sound beautiful in a combination that makes you want to hear more of the two together instantly. It’s quaint, it’s gentle…and it sets up “Swimming To Sink” perfectly. With as many memorable moments as there have been…somehow School Friends find a way to still make further impact with this audible gemstone. Rewarding us instantly with another combination of the two vocalists and a stunning melody in the music and chorus, “Swimming To Sink” is certainly in the running for the most beautiful song I’ve heard this year and the performance of this entire band on Coma has been breathtakingly flawless.
“Move” is apt. Hella apt. The amount of space that this melody covers in just over two and-a-half minutes is truly impressive. Moving both fast & slow, School Friends and whichever-many of the thirteen of them turned up for class this day came ready to PLAY. Rad guitar-line…again mixing that college-rock feel with modern-day folk-rock…School Friends are completely onto something here. Because when you think about it…despite a cult-following, Pavement didn’t work…that sound needed a little more refinement in order for the masses to fully grasp the ideas & concept…and I think that School Friends fill that void with a sound & style that people will instantly relate to and connect with. Or take a tune like “The Dead” with its twinkling-effect, Modest Mouse style guitar-work…same principle…that’s a sound that needed some polishing before it became as acceptable to the masses as it is now – and School Friends already have what took these bands years to perfect, taking that combination to a whole new level. I appreciate just how clever all this really is…as I mentioned in the opening, it SOUNDS effortless…but anyone involved with making the album, or even just listening would be able to tell you it certainly wouldn’t have been easy to make. It’s rare to hear an album so stunning complete and cohesive as this is. It makes even the toughest moments come through shining beautifully…and whether sounding as big as they do in “Move” or as isolated, tiny and innocent as they do on “Hourglass” – every combination is a complete and utter win here on Coma. “Hourglass” is a perfectly told tale…and once again the combination of Joel and Jenny is beautiful enough to stop time & traffic in its place just to listen.
Marcus Horndt…who’s been a secret asset driving the melody in several tunes through his outstanding work on the Rhodes, puts his best forth in “On A Scale” amongst beautiful violins and guitars. Dreamy vocals take the lyrics sweetly to your brain…and while the content remains somewhat mixed between the good & the bad of life, the tenderness in the melody keeps this track shining on. Joel brings the energy back up in the vocals of “Whiskey Neat.” The drums of this song are phenomenally played and exceptionally well-recorded…”Whiskey Neat” not only has a rad-ass set of lyrics and a perfect melody but the additional horns and added level of like…dedication to sound-awesomeness (?) on this song is extraordinary.
Ending with a song as strong as this album deserves, “North” is definitely one of my favourites on Coma…like I said, this album just continually grooves and continually grows, expands and gets more entertaining as it plays. Joel…I gotta hand it to you…vocally, there’s not a note on the entire album I’d change through the vocals…same goes for you Jenny – these performances are stunning in their emotional tone & sincerity. Musically…I feel the exact same way…cool if I give the other ELEVEN of you one big, huge, massively-hairy virtual-hug and congratulations? I enjoyed every second of this album wall-to-wall…Coma is audible-awesomeness all the way through.
Check out School Friend’s album Coma in-full at Bandcamp: https://schoolfriendsofficial.bandcamp.com