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Quiet Friend is the first release from a new project of the same name founded by
guitarist/synthesist Steven Rogers and producer/songwriter Nick Zanca of Mister Lies.
The album was produced by Zanca and LA-based producer Alex Thompson between
2014 and 2017.
Wanting to approach Quiet Friend as an open-ended, ongoing collaboration, the three
brought in about a dozen collaborators. The plurality of voices involved, both literally
and figuratively, is immediately present upon first listen, but rather than feeling
scattershot, the songs are unified by the tension between heavily plastic, futuristic synth
programming, and vocal/string arrangements that are vulnerable and knowingly
imperfect. Also audible is a deep reverence for hi-fi 80’s musicians like The Blue Nile
and Prefab Sprout, who similarly juxtaposed raw thematics with surgically precise
production. Unsurprisingly, many of Quiet Friend’s contributors share an obsession with
antiquated music technology and a sensitivity to space and sonic environments.
Thematically, the album is full of songs about feeling like a child navigating early
adulthood, social anxiety, queer identity and the fraught, often painful experience of
seeking out intimacy in urban environments. “Breathplay” is a window into fumbling,
anonymous sex, with the mantric chorus “Where has your body been?” acting as a
running, anxious internal question to which one would probably rather not know the
answer. Still, there is optimism, and sometimes it prevails. “Name All The Animals,”
though peppered with familiar references to the bleariness of dating in your 20s (“We
drank all of the sake/we skipped out on the party/we are hungover in our hiding
place…”), is ultimately a pre-relationship love song, one which, for all its swooning string
arrangements, embroidery-like microbeats and lush production, stands in strong sonic
contrast to its lyrical uncertainty.
Elsewhere, the instrumental interlude “Thorn From Paw” suggests the dry, unyielding
patterns of Italian minimalism before slipping, heartrendingly, into an apocalyptic glitchwaltz. It’s these deeply cinematic moments that allow Quiet Friend to transcend the sum
of its parts, able to move nimbly between meticulously polished dance pop
(“Breathplay,” “Playgrounds”) and murkier experimentation, often heavily inspired by
vintage new age and ambient music. The rolling, syncopated bell-whirrs that make up
the backbone of “Avalanche” are unmistakably in homage to the experimental pop
geniuses of 80’s Japan. Although much of the gear responsible for the original
reference points is present on the album, they’re revisited in dazzling hi-fi and razorsharp production. Still, despite this obsessive attention to production, there’s a clear
commitment to honesty, both in lyrical content and in texture. Quiet Friend is just as
interested in specificity as in storytelling, and it makes for an intensely personal, almost
invasive listening experience—in the best way possible.
- Jen Monroe (listentothis.info)
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