North Coast indie pop powerhouses Brand New Friend released their sophomore album, Grandstand, on Friday 15th September.
Eagerly anticipated, following singles ‘Talk it Out’ and ‘Stars Bleed’ this summer, Grandstand, with its heavier themes of loss and grief, shows a band matured into their sound. Having cut their teeth on the gig scene, the COVID pandemic threw the five-piece’s future direction into disarray in the wake of their previous release, the A Cure for Living EP. The product of a labour of love (and lockdowns) honed over the last five years, Grandstand was worth every second of the wait.
With Grandstand, the band show themselves to be back at their best. The haunting and heavy production of the opening track, ‘Dino’, complements the sweet melodies of the verses and soaring chorus. Luke Harris’ masterful percussion underlines the track, while siblings Taylor and Lauren Johnson’s complementary vocals explore lyrical themes reminiscent of in the band’s earlier work, agonising over materialism and the passage of time over infectious indie beats.
Lead single ‘Talk it Out’ follows, the song-writing debut of PhD student, pop princess Lauren. Crossing lyrical nostalgia with a forward-looking, genre-bending sound, this song is sure to be a live highlight on the band’s upcoming tour.
An infectious riff with sprinklings of synth play us into Lauren Johnson’s soft vocals, her verse capturing the familiar agony of honouring friendships through your twenties and illicit scenic imagery reminiscent of their coastal origins. A heavier, anthemic chorus showcases the band’s rhythmic talent, with Aaron Milligan on guitar, and the younger Johnson sibling, Logan, on bass. Later in the song, reverbed vocals complement the scenic lyricism explored throughout, resulting in indie-pop perfection.
‘Open and Shut’ slows the pace of the album, a warbling guitar lick paired with lyrics of apathy and election posters firmly set the song in today’s Northern Ireland. Thematically similar to their older work, the song details overthinking old texts and offers social commentary on their small home town. Squeaky clean production and lyrics that stop you in your tracks illustrate the growth of the band since their debut album’s release, without losing touch with those little quirks that characterise their song writing.
‘Read through old texts like they’re poetry / open and shut like the book that you never read’
Messier, punkier ‘Lucky’ follows. Drums are the highlight of this track, which showcases Luke Harris at his best. The band pay homage to the garage-rock bands Brand New Friend grew up with while retaining their unique sound, and masterfully pace this almost five-minute long track with electric licks and punchy lines complementing the indefatigable drum riff.
The mood change with ‘Zero’ is stark, elements of indie-folk are interpolated and the overarching themes of loss and grief come to the fore. The soaring final minute is a highlight, demonstrating each of the five pieces’ complementary musical abilities and exploring a sound we’ve previously not heard from the band.
In ‘Stars Bleed’ we hear Taylor Johnson’s aching vocals over a tinkling synth beat. The second single released from Grandstand; in it we hear an unusually vulnerable side of the band. Sombre melodies complement the innate softness of the track, with emotive lyrics weaving through the instrumentals with ease.
The title track follows. The album Grandstand has a thematic coherence, and the band’s growth is no clearer highlighted than its namesake. The evolved lyricism, matured vocals and instrumentals all supported by the talented production of Danny Ball, with the assistance of guitarist Aaron, are heard so clearly in this emotive ballad. Maybe even a little self-referential, ‘high powered jet planes / weren’t designed to go up in flames,’ the song captures reflection without ever straying too far into cliché. Concluding with a dreamy, guitar-driven breakdown, this is the sound of a band at its best.
Melodic ‘If You’re Looking For A Sign, This Is It’ is a personal favourite. Here, you hear the influence of mentor Gary Lightbody, but it’s never dominating. Siblings Taylor and Lauren’s vocals bounce off each other from verse to verse of this sweet love song, while building to a soaring refrain of the titular line.
Slower, steadier ‘Hey Blue,’ brings a vintage edge to the album. Sonically not a far cry from the crooners of the 1950s and 60s, the band digress from their usual future-facing sound for this track, demonstrating a greater assuredness in their ability that is a delight to the ears.
Tied together with ‘The Dream We’re In,’ the album comes to a close with this tale of two sounds. ‘The Dream We’re In’ is, to its core, a soft-sounding, atmospheric love song. Dreamy lyrics, layered vocals and tinkling instrumentals almost close in the album, before the last eighty seconds of the song switch into a breath-grabbing instrumental wall of sound.
Masterfully paced, the track takes the album full circle, making you all the more excited to hear it live.