Pop-punk has been, and always will be, the slipperiest slope of all genres. It’s nearly impossible to craft music that stands out, and when artists try to sound different from the rest of the pack, it almost always backfires. Take Real Friends, for instance; formed in 2010, this five-piece pop-punk band from Tinley Park, Ill. has been on the rise in the alternative music scene for the last few years. With six EPs and two albums — including their latest album, The Home Inside My Head — Real Friends is in many ways one of the most innovative names in pop-punk today.
With raw vocals reminiscent of Sleater-Kinney, sincere lyrics that move through you and guitar riffs that stamp their music with that pop-punk trademark, Real Friends is no doubt a different breed of pop-punk. Slightly Emo with a touch of an all-American charm, Real Friends has a distinct sound; the problem, however, is that their sound is only distinctive relative to other pop-punk bands. When Real Friends is played consecutively, their music becomes a homogenous blur of five different vocal chords — the same guitar riffs and identical rhythm.
The only saving grace on The Home Inside My Head is the stand-out lyricism. Aside from intently listening to the poetic and emotionally-driven lyrics, it’s almost impossible to differentiate one song from the next. I was only able to identify three songs that stood out on the album due to their difference in pacing. “Mokena,” “Eastwick” and “Colder Quicker” are, without a doubt, the best songs on the album; you might as well not listen to the remaining nine tracks because they all sound like much of the same.
“Mokena” is the first song on the album that stands on its own, largely due to being incredibly stripped down at first. The vocals are soft, clear and melodically poetic, but then a minute into the song, the pretty vocals take a punk turn and get loud, angry and full of raw emotion that vocalist Dan Lambton has perfected so well. The remainder of the song pivots between these softer interludes and louder emotionally driven choruses, effectively giving listeners a refreshing break from the typical sound they’ve grown accustomed to.
After “Mokena,” the album goes back to its raw, mundane, albeit reasonably enjoyable, sound; things don't spice up until the last two tracks of the album. “Eastwick” is probably my favorite because, although it still features the scratchy, bare vocals that carry through the album, it’s contrasted by the acoustic guitar, which is uncommon in most pop-punk music. The juxtaposition of gritty vocals with beautiful guitar chords makes “Eastwick” easily the most unique track on the entire album.
To end the album on a high-note, “Colder Quicker” is another track that speaks to me. With an amazing vocal performance by Lambton coupled with on-point instrumentals, “Colder Quicker” is like a rapid-fire, mesmerizing fireworks finale on the Fourth of July. It clearly was one of the songs the band spent the most time perfecting; you can tell by listening to it that a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into crafting the song. I wouldn’t call it my favorite, but it’s definitely a stand-out among the rest.
At the end of the day, this is by no means pretty music; but it’s raw and honest — two distinct elements that most music lacks today. Despite the fact that nine out of 12 songs just sound like one long song, they sound like one long great song. No band is perfect, but Real Friends makes imperfect sound not too shabby. And that, friends, is punk.