Friendship Finds a Peace of Sorts on Love the Stranger

Music Reviews Friendship
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Friendship Finds a Peace of Sorts on <i>Love the Stranger</i>

When Friendship released “Hank,” the second single off their new album, it came with a music video directed by none other than Joe Pera. The video is a characteristically Pera-esque slice of life, following a painter and a woodworker through the rocky shores and spruce-speckled woods of Cranberry Island, where frontman Dan Wriggins once worked as a lobster fisherman just off the coast of his native Maine. Over the footage, Wriggins’ voice paints symbolic sketches of fraying tools and a life that’s trying to hold itself together one day at a time.

That the pairing fits so seamlessly speaks to the affinity of Friendship and Pera’s work. Their art doesn’t seek to escape the everyday, but places it under a microscope instead, exposing it for all its tiring minutiae and subtle beauty, lingering on the ways we carve out pockets of joy within the mundane.

Love the Stranger, Friendship’s first release with Merge Records, hits like a call out of the blue from an old friend, touching on the passage of time, its disappointments and humble victories, and the struggle to stay kind whether or not the world returns the favor. “Still swinging on my vine / Still getting up every day,” Wriggins sings in his plainspoken baritone on “St. Bonaventure,” opening the album over a loose, lap steel-inflected and snare-heavy beat. This Americana-tinged sound serves as home base for the album, but it doesn’t keep the band from branching out.

“Alive Twice” creates a skeletal frame for itself out of synthesizer and piano, just barely holding together through the faintest of kickdrums until snapping into place right at the end, with lingering piano chords drawing out the last word of Wriggins’ confession, “Every minute with you / was like being alive twice.” More full-throated tracks like “Ramekin’’ and “Ryde,” meanwhile, bring some of Songs: Ohia’s more anthemic moments to mind, taking the band into a louder space than they’ve explored before, with the force of their sound on the songs mirroring the tug-of-war between bitterness and gratitude that permeates the characters within them.

While the instrumentation can still feel a little cut and dried at times, it’s often saved by flourishes tucked into the gaps where songs threaten to turn stale, be it a playful melodica on “Chomp Chomp,” a warm organ that brings “Ugly Little Victory” to a triumphant close, or a coda on “Hank” sampling a chainsaw as it splits a guitar in half.

A preoccupation with the way things fall apart runs through these songs, coming through in the torn-down cathedrals, odes to relationships past or in decay, and memories of places that can’t be returned to scattered across the album. It’s a preoccupation that looks forward and backwards, though. Whatever feels meaningful may be fragile, but that fragility makes it something all the more precious to hold onto when we find it—a lesson Wriggins seems to know full well as he asks himself, “What can a poor kid do / To keep busy? / Because I still need to love this little world.”

Jack Meyer is a freelance writer based in New York and a former Paste intern. You can usually find him biking to Wilco through Prospect Park.