While there’s plenty of immediate appeal to the songs of The Friendsters (a Sydney trio comprising Roberta Stewart, Sally Pitmann and Liam Kenny), the ragged qualities of the band (dreary delivery, sub-standard gear and murky recordings) are unlikely to gain them mass appeal. Regardless, these qualities are an appropriate guise for what they represent. The Friendsters, and their new self-titled 7 inch, personify all-encompassing hurt, depression and pain set in a relatively pleasant sounding world. Like feeling down in good weather, your mood can only be mildly improved by the blue skies.
The saccharine veneers tacked onto the band’s first 7 inch are flimsy and superficial, but no less powerful. Stewart’s lyrics are ridden with persistent depressions and stained by a struggle to cope, but they’re sung with such self-aware brutality that it’s actually charming. It’s an odd sensation to find yourself smiling at a line like, “drain my blood / leave me for dead,” but even though these songs are ostensibly downers, there’s a sense of joy in them. By virtue of being a recorded piece of music, these sorts of lines exist with a level of comedy because they look back at dark days having passed. That’s not to take away from the power of a song like ‘Shark Bait’ though. If it ever feels as though the Friendsters have been freed from their internal trials, the fact stands that they’re laid out for you to empathise with.
There’s an intangible quality to this recording where everything feels just out of reach; it sounds as though the band are playing with their backs to you. This sound matches the flatness and dejection in words and delivery. Stewart’s vocals can sound disinterested (but never uninteresting) even when shouting, but it’s forever contrasted by excitable guitar lines and ambitious key changes. It’s an unusual quality for a band of this kind to possess, to be thrusting their music outwards but still feel relatively distant.
Listening to the Friendsters can feel like staring at an open bedroom door with a completely able body, but being too heavy in the chest to move an inch towards it. At other times, it’s like finally pulling yourself out of bed at 9 pm and violently grinning your way through social interactions to mask the fucker of a day you just survived. I feel like it could be a pretty important recording for anyone who has felt these things before.
My favourite parts on this 7 are the extremes. Whether that lies in obscuring the moping with big guitars on ‘Shark Bait’ or comedic affirmations like “I’m gonna kill you” on ‘Revenge is the Best Revenge,’ it gains just as much affection in the peaks as it does the troughs. It’s full of small internal victories and both the acceptance and denial of personal flaws. It goes from utterly dejected to maniacally triumphant, which is as broad a spectrum as you’ll ever get from a three-piece rock band.
The Friendsters’ 7 inch is out now on Matt Kennedy’s Brisbane label, Eternal Soundcheck.
(Featured Image: Andrew Gove)