By Brent Ables | 25 September 2013
The Sirens first appear in Book XII of Homer’s Odyssey. After being warned ahead of time of these nefarious beauties who lure unwary sailors onto rocks that will wreck their ships, the fast-talking protagonist of the tale commands his shipmates to stuff their ears with beeswax and tie him to the mast. If Odysseus doesn’t get to hear the Siren’s song, then the reader will never have been introduced to them either. The song is like the apple in the Garden of Eden: a pleasure too tempting to be resisted. As Odysseus sails by the Sirens, safely bound, they sing their own praises: “Draw near, and bring your ship to rest, and listen to our voices. No man rows past this isle in his dark ship without hearing the honeysweet sound from our lips. He delights in it and goes his way a wiser man…We know everything that comes to pass on this fertile earth.” What is this music that is at once edifying and delightful? Who in our time has the voice and the depth to carry this song? Perhaps no one. But the guys behind Friendzone, although they never open their mouths, conjure such a sound. On DX, they make a humble selection of synths and samplers sing songs of which even the Sirens might have been jealous.
Unlike those cruel chanteuses of old, however, Friendzone have no tricks in store for us. They’re not looking to end your voyage, but to light its way. Dylan Reznick and James Laurence have been bringing their distinctive, endlessly gratifying production style to a larger and larger audience over the past few years, working with artists from Bay Area stalwarts Main Attrakionz to chart-toppers like A$AP Rocky. If Clams Casino and Lil B more or less invented cloud rap, Friendzone undoubtedly perfected it, and have become a more recognizable figurehead for the movement than anyone besides the Based God himself. Witness how they brought together all the best DJs associated with the sound—including Ryan Hemsworth, Keyboard Kid, and Green Ova’s resident mad scientist, .L.W.H.—earlier this year to make something as cohesive and all-around gorgeous as Kuchibiru Network 3 while managing to gently nudge their peers out of the water with opener “Moments (Part 2).” And last year’s Collection 1, a simple anthology of their beats up to that point, made it into our top 10 albums of last year. Now, with DX, they finally drop their official debut. And it marks their progression from top-notch producers to genuine composers in their own right.
The elements of Friendzone’s music are familiar enough. Skewed vocal loops, hip-hop drums, an assortment of shimmering keyboards. On Collection 1, Friendzone demonstrated that their sense of how to combine these elements was as tasteful as anyone else in the game. But these were still only beats. On DX, the group no longer needs to leave room for the raps, and so all the most complex and subtle aspects of their aesthetic stand glowing in the foreground. A track like “Luv You More Than Anything” is a wonderland of harmonic counterpart, deftly balancing a spry piano riff with a typically coy vocal sample and cascading keyboards. Laurence and Reznick know exactly how long any one element needs to take the lead on these busier tracks. But they are masters of slow movement as well, and so we get the aching “8AM,” which stretches just a few motifs into the colored fog of an interrupted dream. Somewhere in between lies album highlight “All My Life,” which takes a familiar pop chord progression to places pop could never reach.
But then, where exactly do we place this music? Is it still cloud rap? The answer is yes, but it is also so much more. There is something at work in this album which, on the surface, seems so sweet and even lightweight, and yet insists upon itself the more one listens. It’s something thoughtful, “honeysweet” but wise. A song like “Hislo” doesn’t just make me feel better whenever I listen to it, it almost seems to point a way forward. Maybe Laurence and Reznick don’t know all that comes to pass on this fertile earth, but more than just about anyone making music right now, they make music that sounds assured and whole and alive enough to serve as a reliable guide. That this music is made with computers is only a minor irony that speaks to their gifts. Gifts purely generous, with no agenda at all. The only danger that a traveler need be aware of here is that, once you enter into DX, you might never want to leave again.