Artist: Real Friends
Album: The Home Inside My Head
Typically, pop-punk is pigeonholed as a genre that captures adolescent angst and not much else. Nine out of ten times, that’s a valid statement—but every so often, a band manages to expand beyond the entrapment of melancholy teenage restlessness and heartbreak, and with The Home Inside My Head, Real Friends become part of the maturing ten percent. Where their previous releases have been displays of pure youthful emotion—both in energy and in lamenting, heartbroken lyrics—their latest full-length release sees the same band that captured countless teenage hearts growing and expanding; realizing they can’t make everyone happy, and that’s okay. The issue therein becomes this: do we really want a band that captures teenage directionlessness and downtrodden heartbreak better than most to really grow up?
Instrumentally, Real Friends find themselves at the crossroads of their relatively mellow debut full length, Maybe This Place is the Same… and the frenzied fervor of their Eps. The Home Inside My Head sees the band creating everything from full-bore pop-punk anthems (“Stay in One Place,” “Mess”) to slow, sullen ballads (“Eastwick”). Percussionist Brian Blake—whether he’s playing softly or steaming ahead at full pace—is always quick and punctual. Where “Stay in One Place” and “Door Without a Key” see him dominating the mix with loud, crashing cymbals and frantic fills, “Empty Picture Frames” and “Colder Quicker” see him simplifying things, leaning heavily on hi-hat and snare patterns that are punchy and quick without stealing attention from guitarists Dave Knox and Eric Haines. Assisted by bassist Kyle Fasel, Knox and Haines follow Blake’s lead with excellence. More rambunctious tracks see the duo blaring loud and proud with deafening riffs that feature just enough dissonance to keep things from sounding too clean. However the acoustic “Eastwick” and“Mess,” among others see the duo keeping things more subtle, highlighting Fasel’s low end that shines in stark contrast to Knox and Haines’ clear, shimmering melodies.
Where Real Friends’ instrumentation ranges from whimsical, almost-generic pop-punk to mellow, midwestern emo territory, the quintet’s vocals add a tangible hue of angst and earnest emotion to every track. Frontman Dan Lambton is, in many ways, the same voice the listener has come to love throughout Real Friends’ sprawling discography. However, where Lambton’s vocals and lyrics previously focused almost exclusively on loss and hopelessness, The Home Inside My Head hints at growth and recovery. At several points throughout the album, Lambton discusses moving past his previous faults—and at one point sings: “I can’t make everyone happy/and that’s okay.” Here, Lambton is at his most convincing, truly capturing the listener and motivating them to move past their own wrongdoings. However, other portions of the album—like “Eastwick” and “Keep Lying to Me”—see Lambton’s lyrics reverting a bit too much towards his stream-of-consciousness style of writing. “Eastwick” especially takes what could have been a catchy and moving acoustic track and overdoes it, with several points sacrificing rhymes for over-the-top imagery that comes across at forced instead of sincere.
For the most part, The Home Inside My Head is a winning effort for Tinley Park’s finest. The quicker and more poignant songs are either nostalgic and emotional or mature and motivational, while the instrumentation hammers it home expertly. In many ways, Real Friends seem to have returned to form after a perhaps too mellow debut full-length—as The Home Inside My Head has more than enough relatable verses and fun, sing-a-long choruses. However, where the band fall short, they fall short in noticeable fashion. “Eastwick” in particular is a disappointment because it had such potential. However Lambton’s lyrical style gets ahead of itself at several points, going over the top with dramatic imagery when, at times, perhaps the easier and catchier route would have fit better. Even so, for fans of the band and pop-punk enthusiasts in general, The Home Inside My Head will certainly find a home in record players and digital music collections with ease.
For Fans Of: Knuckle Puck, Neck Deep, The Wonder Years, Sunny Day Real Estate
By: Connor Welsh