Fickle Friends — You Are Someone Else
March 16, 2018
Brighton, UK / Polydor Records

Even though this is indie pop quintet Fickle Friends’ first record, it is far from their first impression. The band have been making waves in the UK since 2013, coming out with so many singles and EPs that You Are Someone Else feels less like a debut and more like a return to form.

I’ve been anticipating a full-length Fickle Friends album since 2016, when I caught ear of their song “Brooklyn“, which would eventually find its way onto this new record. I was immediately captivated by the band’s upbeat, 80s-tinged approach to indie rock, pairing live guitars and percussion with some climactic disco beats. I feel like when I’m listening to their music I should be in an arcade playing Q*bert, or sitting at a booth in a diner on the side of the road.

My anticipation for this album only grew stronger with singles like “Glue“, which features this reclined finger-snap backing, and an undeniable vocal glide in the chorus that I can’t help but sing along to. It’s hard to get across in writing just how good this melody is, but it kinda goes like

Whooooo-ooooooo-ooo-ooooo!

and if that isn’t enough to make you want to listen to this song, I don’t know how to help you.

The band’s music is made all the sweeter by frontwoman Natassja Shiner, whose personality on these tracks is as sharp as the hooks themselves. This isn’t your typical The 1975-esque dance revivalist shtick; while Fickle Friends are definitely influenced by the styles that came before them, their music is more of a respectful homage than it is derivative.

That’s not to say that I expected them to reinvent the indie pop wheel or anything like that, but I had no reason to doubt that they could carry these strengths forward onto a full-length release.

As it turns out, they provided much more than just a proof of concept on You Are Someone Else, because this is a 16-track, 50-minute album, comprised mostly of brand new material. Even if you’ve heard every one of the band’s singles leading up to this release, there’s still 10 new songs for you to get stuck into.

While the band does continue to produce some of their most left-field pop music on You Are Someone Else, they definitely don’t shy away from some more mainstream dance fundamentals at times, boasting some throbbing bass and convulsing electronics that could go toe to toe with more mainstream contemporary dance music.

This rings true on a song like “Hard to Be Myself“, which is pretty much just a straight-up club banger with a thumping beat and some shimmering synth keys. Maybe a tune about social anxiety isn’t the usual subject matter of a dance floor playlist (though there’s definitely a demographic to be found here), but the “So just tonight, what the fuck” refrain in the chorus really exemplifies how unapologetic this band is in delivering less inhibited cuts like this one. Not that I want them to apologise, because they do a good job of it.

Other songs on the record lay off on the disco glitter in favour of some more emotional prowess, like the closing track “Useless”. As much as I love this crawling bassline, what steals the show for me is Natassja’s vocal delivery. She sounds downright hungry as she sings this self-empowerment anthem about refusing to feel invalidated in a relationship.

Useless
What’d you call me, useless?
Boy, you’re not the only one who’s running in their sleep
Ruthless
Only call me ruthless
Boy, you’re not the only one who’s opened up to me

The preceding track “She” also has more of a conventional indie rock progression, as Natassja is singing about this person who’s fighting with themselves, not knowing that there’s somebody out there who’s perfect for them. This “You’re someone’s absolute excuse” mantra, together with the ending track, provides a gratifying sense of closure to the album, even if it didn’t really need it to begin with.

Even some of the flashier cuts on the record still transcend beyond your usual dance beats, like the angular guitars and undulating MIDI synths on the song “Bite”, or the pattering percussion and art rock riffs on “Swim“, which has grown to become my favourite single from the bunch.

It’s your only way to live
Three doors down and one room in
I lose my mind amongst your things
But I can’t swim

Wake Me Up” kills it as an opener, too, with its urgent synth leads and bustling beat, as well as some of the darker lyrics on the album about a failing relationship. Even on tracks like this where Natassja is singing “Kill me first”, the underlying instrumentation is just so damn infectious that this song could dominate a dance floor just as well as it could a break-up playlist.

Still, an album with as many moods and tempos as You Are Someone Else is going to come with at least a couple of deeper cuts that aren’t quite as engrossing as the rest. While I appreciate the vulnerable sentiment of the “In My Head” interlude, it doesn’t really feel like a necessary break between “Heartbroken” and “Rotation”, which are some of the busiest tracks here. Also, I don’t know if “Paris” needed to be here since it sat perfectly well on the band’s Velvet EP, even if I do enjoy the instrumental collage that brings the second half to a tight finish.

That being said, though, considering just how many of the songs here I find myself coming back to, this was far from a disappointing debut. In fact, I’d say it exceeded my expectations on all fronts. You could take out all of the tracks that I wasn’t as crazy about and still come away with an incredibly solid 11-or-so-track run.

I’m definitely looking forward to whatever Fickle Friends come out with next, even if we have to wait 5 more years for an album. In the meantime, enjoy You Are Someone Else, because there’s plenty of songs here that are essential for your summer ’18 playlist.

FAVOURITE TRACKS: Wake Me Up / Glue / Swim / Bite / Lovesick / Heartbroken / Rotation / Hello Hello / Brooklyn / Useless

8/10