Texan all-woman duo Boy Friend occupy the space between shoegazing and post rock with ease. Cazz Blase follows up on her updates on the blog with a review and speaks to the band to find out about their influences and plans
Christa Palazzolo and Sarah Brown have collaborated on several projects together in their 15 year friendship. They formed Boy Friend in 2010 while going through the breakup of their previous band Sleep ₀₀ Over and their debut EP, Lovedropper was released in spring 2011. Given that Boy Friend formed from the ashes of the Sleep ₀₀ Over, now rejuvenated , it would be fair to ask if the absolute heartbreak that laces through this debut album stems from circumstances musical as much as personal.
Writing about Sleep ₀₀ Over, The Guardian‘s Paul Lester has remarked that they could be the soundtrack to Carrie’s breakdown” and it would be fair to say that the current lineup of Sleep ₀₀ Over appear to be making a more densely textured, and possibly more sinister, series of soundscapes than their younger sibling. As far as Boy Friend are concerned, Lester sang their praises whilst also wondering what on earth it is that has happened in their young lives to make them make music like this.”
He may well ask because the band’s debut album is both deceptively beautiful and heartbreakingly anguished.
Opening track ‘Rogue Waves I’ is gentle and almost new age sounding music, with its birdsong and an electronic keyboard which appears to be switched to dulcimer rather than piano. There are accompanying swirls of guitar but no words, merely soft almost unnoticeable notes of a voice. The effect is subtler than a lullaby, with an enigmatic voice merging into the soundscape. It is beautifully and unaccountably sad in its ethereal delicacy.
The crispness of the drum machine, along with the longing eerie wailing vocals give ‘Bad Dreams’ the vibe of a siren song, luring sailors onto the rocks. A dark and foreboding synthesiser, echoey and slightly sepulchral in tone completes the picture. Wistful longing is the dominant theme, and the track builds slowly and subtly into a tale of genuine heartbreak. “Why?” the protagonist appears to be asking, “why?”
Early E.P track ‘Lovedropper’ opens with a sigh before cutting straight to the chase. “Oh baby you said your piece, but a heartache was all I could find.” Layered and complex, with synthy swirls amongst lilting guitar, overlapping vocals and robust backbeat, ‘Lovedropper’ is a formidable debut and complex single, reminiscent of Lush circa ‘For Love’ or mid-period Cocteau Twins. The duo’s musical prowess comes across as much as their ease with each other musically.
The strong vocals and sombre keyboard of ‘In Case’ tie in with a complex drum pattern and the effect is pretty but the robust. ‘Lazy Hunter’ sees the band entering 1980s synthpop territory, much like the band Chairlift on some of the more whimsical moments from their debut album. But Boy Friend are equally complex as a band and the keyboard, piano and drum machine combine elegantly with the yearning and wistful vocals in a way that is not so much derivative as inspired.
Recent album teaser ‘Egyptian Wrinkle’ is keyboard led, minimal and sparse. It just about contains the ghost of shoegazing within its sonic prism. Think Slowdive meets the Cocteau Twins. It has swooping melodies and eerie layered vocals. These layered vocals are one way in which the duo makes use of their voices as instruments. Another is the way that they don’t so much sing as create vocal noise and layers which then become a part of the music, much as Liz Fraser has always done, both in the Cocteau Twins and in This Mortal Coil. More recently this approach has also been deployed by Zola Jesus and is a staple of her industrial soundscapes.
‘Breathe’ is an almost monk-like chant, sung acapella, made up entirely of layered vocals and echo. It creates an interlude of sorts, lasting a mere one minute and 20 seconds and paving the way for standout track ‘The Lair’.
A delicate piano is contrasted against a foreboding drum machine and underlaid by a menacing synth, creating a mood that is dark and hauntingly cinematic. A guitar emerges from the maelstrom as the narrator begins to sing: “I know what you came to say…” and the song builds the emotion and sense of darkness to terrifyingly intense levels, threatening to overwhelm this simple tale of breakup and heartbreak. This becomes heartbreakingly uncomfortable, so claustrophobic and so emotionally searing that it is quite painful to listen to. One of the longest tracks on the album, this is an absolute masterpiece.
Penultimate track ‘The False Cross’ again harks back to 1980s synthpop and follows on well from ‘The Lair’, developing the mood established in that song and transcending the whiff of synthpop with a driving guitar riff and interrogative vocals. It is a less foreboding piece, but equally accomplished and more complex. It serves to pick the listeners up from the floor where they have been reduced sobbing by ‘The Lair’ and gives them fresh resolve, arguing as it does “You are the only one who keeps you from being free.”
The closing track ‘Rogue Waves II’ takes the listener back to where it all began, but this is a more eerie, more obviously electro ‘Rogue Waves’. The melody or indeed the entire original track appears to be being played backwards and the overall effect is less than soothing. Boy Friend have taken you on an odyssey across seas of sadness and heartbreak and you’ve emerged battered and bruised but ultimately a better person for it as you crawl across the sands into Ithaca. Nothing will ever be the same again.
Boy Friend are Sarah Brown and Christa Palazzolo. Here’s what they had to say during an interview with Cazz:
I know you’ve worked together before, and over a long period of time, but how did your previous bands differ from what you’re now doing with Boy Friend?
Sarah: This is the only project where it’s just Christa & I. It’s a little easier to be productive and stay positive this way.
Christa: Yeah, the positivity for sure. I think we take a lot from our previous musical experiences but this band continues to be more personal and emotive than the rest. We’re still learning, growing and experimenting but it feels way more open in this band than other projects I’ve been in specifically.
How would you describe your sound?
Christa: One of our friends described our sound as being like “flying a stuffed pizza crust into outer space” which I think I’m going to stick with. Lots of moody cooing vocals too.
What inspires you to create music?
Sarah: Music has always been such a huge part of my life, it just seems natural to express myself through it.
Christa: Same here, making music & performing has always been a huge interest of mine. I’m usually most inspired in darker moments or when I see another band that just really floors me. I mix visual art in here and there, but it’s nowhere near as immediate.
Who are your musical heroines and heroes?
Sarah: Cher, Stevie Nicks, Loretta Lynn, Brenda Lee, David Bowie, Jeff Lynn, Otis Redding, R Kelly.
Christa: Cyndi Lauper, Joni Mitchell, Mariah Carey, Neko Case, Lauren Hill / Mark Kozelek, Paul Simon, Giorgio Moroder, David Byrne, Harry Nilsson
Your music is very atmospheric, are you inspired by your immediate surroundings?
Sarah: I’m personally more inspired by immediate feelings or some sort of imagined surroundings.
Christa: Yeah, definite emphasis on the immediate feelings, but I will say it’s way easier to draw inspiration from a quiet night than a beautiful busy day for me. Ha! I think that’s why I mostly write at night during the winter.
What are your plans for 2012?
Sarah: Tour, travel, strive to get away from having to work another job all the time.
Christa: Tour, write new music, make new art/teach art to kids, learn new tricks!
Press pictures supplied by WorkIt Media. The first shows a golden-tinged merging of images of Christa and Sarah against a white background. The second is a pale picture of Christa and Sarah wrapped in a transparent piece of white fabric and looking out slightly to their right against a pastel pink tinged background.