Driver Friendly

Unimagined Bridges

Written by: TL on 26/08/2014 19:37:48

Having formed after meeting each other in a marching band in high school, Austin, TX-based Driver Friendly are one of the more unusual bands currently growing in the US scene. They released two albums on their own before the singles "Ghosts" and "Messidona" - from 2012's "Bury A Dream" helped them draw some more significant attention, and now, two years later, they're back as a quintet, two members down from last time but with Hopeless Records at their backs as they seek to further extend their progress with new album "Unimagined Bridges".

The reason the group is unusual is that their particular genre-blend sits rather singularly between genres. While down two members, the band still sounds near-orchestral in the way they employ the trumpet playing of Juan Lopes, but at the same time they tour with pop-punk bands and have Soupy from The Wonder Years guesting on the album, and across the new album, a diverse range of bands come to mind as comparisons, yet I can hardly think of any that sound very similar - I mean the likes of Battle Creek and Spokes sort of come to mind, but both were short-lived groups that I doubt many have even heard of in the first place and thus, Driver Friendly exist almost entirely their own.

Take a song like "Undone" at track five for instance. The prolonged "Oooh-ohhh" melodies bring a song like Arcade Fire's elated "Wake Up" to mind, while there's a tiny "I'm not alright, on some nights" that spurs your mind onto the idea that fun. could sort of be a comparison, but overall, the song doesn't sound very parallel to either band. The peculiar recipe builds a thick soundscape around the dynamic lead vocal exchanges of guitarist Tyler Welsh and guitarist Andy Lane, with Chris Walker's bass providing groove while the guitar handles atmosphere, and Lopez' trumpet then routinely joins along with backing gang-choirs that lift the choruses up to layered arrangements that ensures that a closer listen to the record will never get boring.

The album is carefully sequenced, starting with an intro to remember in "The Game (This Won't Hurt", in which anxious vocals confess that "All I ever wanted, was to be part of the conversation", and later the record takes a break to revisit the same refrain with "The Conversation" which sits dead in the center at track six out of eleven. It separates the actual songs into manageable servings of four and five, and particularly the four that come before the break make "Unimagined Bridges" appear strong. Each of these showcase how the vocal back and forth between Lane and Welsh consistently creates refrains that sneak into your mind and get you singing along absent-mindedly upon returning listens, whether it be "An out-stretched hand is an open promise - It takes more than words to stay honest" in "Everything Gold" or "Deconstruct You"'s simple "I want to deconstruct you, slowly - I want to tear you apart - piece by brilliant piece".

Moving across the middle of the album however, it becomes clear that the band's formula could do with a bit more variety, as the songs become difficult to remember apart from each other your mind. Jeremi Mattern's drumming is solid but anonymous, and the band sticks almost religiously to a medium tempo somewhere between actually fast and properly powerful, and you don't get an actual sensation of speed until the late tracks "What A Predicament" and "Twenty Centuries Of Sleep", but at least the latter throws in a chorus in which the urgent backing vocals have good effect. Overall you can feel like the guitar and horns are a bit too locked in their collaborative efforts, and you will rarely hear anything that sounds like an actual signature from either, which is something I feel could have helped the songs stand apart. As it is, a bit too much rests on the choruses of Lane and Welsh.

Overall then, "Unimagined Bridges" is a thoroughly made record, which stands up to repeat listening sessions via its added melodic layers and consistently catchy choruses. I'm not sure it has as strong standouts as "Ghosts" or "Messidona" were on the previous album though, and while I appreciate that the band has blended horns into their indie/pop-punk without resorting to over-used ska elements, I do feel like they could do with varying their often extended harmonies with some occasional choppy parts, in which either one instrument was allowed to step out front more clearly, or the interplay was made more dynamic. After all, mixing things up would only provide more contrast for the band to shine with what they already do well. All things considered though, Driver Friendly continue to be an intriguing band of promise, but a properly unquestionable sequence of songs is still something we have to await on a future album.

Download: Everything Gold, Deconstruct You, Twenty Centuries Of Sleep
For The Fans Of: Walk The Moon, fun., Vampire Weekend

Release date 15.07.2014
Hopeless Records

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