I went in to writing this review of Urbana, IL-based indie folk-rockers The Palace Flophouse's new release Bad Friends Forever with absolutely no expectations, as it would be my first introduction to the band. This is not their first release, which shows in the quality of the songs - most of them have a healthy level of maturity in the songwriting and instrumentation. It is ultimately this maturity which gives the album its strongest virtues and makes it worth a listen.
The first track, “Just A Bad Friend,” starts the album off in proper fashion with some good crunchy guitar and confident vocals from Bradley Bergstrand. The album continues with “Hostage Situation,” one of the best tracks on the album. The harmonies between vocalist/guitarist Bradley and keyboardist Gretchen Bergstrand make for a very nice sound, and the fast tempo is a good change of pace from track one. Nate Fry, the band's bass player, really shines in this one, and I wonder if the bass was purposely mixed a bit louder than normal to highlight his groovy bass line.
The third track, “Flight,” starts off with a very promising intro marked by a beautiful echo-y distorted guitar sound and a little bit of piano for good measure. The verses are very quiet, highlighting Bradley's vocals and lyrics, and when the guitar comes back in, very faintly, you hardly notice it. It's very pretty song, especially because of the piano sound that comes in and out like an old friend who's always welcome. The lyrics and melody seem a bit random and unpolished at times, but this is more than made up for by the song's wonderful instrumentation.
“North Platte” begins with a nice wall of sound introduction where the bass is the most audible instrument. The “doo doo doo” chorus actually proves to be one of the most memorable refrains on the album instead of sounding hackneyed as it might look in print. The bridge brings the rock into the album, which is a good thing after the relative light sound of every previous song. Bradley wails about all of his friends being alcoholics while Gretchen repeats the refrain.
Later in the album, “Chicago” is another little gold nugget. Asa Dawson's drums during the verse stand out, the guitar is hauntingly beautiful and the crescendo makes the song feel much longer than it really is (a mere 2:17).
Also worth nothing is “Crash/Burn,” which probably has the best intro of the lot and is also the longest. The bass work stands out again, as do Gretchen's harmonies. The drum breaks in the verses serve the song well, giving it a choppy and jumpy feel that adds nicely to the rock.
The album ends with the minute-long “We Run Around.” It rocks hard with a cool old-timey feel to the piano and is a good way to close; sort of like an epilogue or afterthought.
Some songs on Bad Friends Forever fare better than others, but The Palace Flophouse's honesty and knack for writing intricate instrumentals make them a band that fans of indie rock will surely appreciate. The band rocks harder than most bands that label themselves as “folk” and this is a good thing; it helps to give them their own recognizable sound. At times vocal harmonies are overused to the point of losing some effect, but this is made up for by the fact that whenever it does work, it sounds fantastic. I can't honestly say what the future holds for a talented band from Champaign-Urbana, but hopefully The Palace Flophouse has a long enough career to go all the places they have the potential to go.
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Briar Rabbit - Briar Rabbit and the Company You keep
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