Someone needs to tell Friendly Fires that summer starts in June. On their second album, Pala, the English dance punks bring out the carnival in full force, in turn creating the first great summer album of 2011. The band is completely self-aware, and the strengths that make Pala such an enjoyable experience are clear: big hooks, fun lyrics and a not-quite-chillwave rhythm that screams Brazil more than Southern California.
From the simply amazing album opener, “Live Those Days Tonight,” it’s clear that Friendly Fires is not going to unlock the secret to life, unless that secret is a sweaty, sexy dance party, which it just might be. A minute in, the quiet buildup explodes into booming drums and buzzy synths that combine with singer Ed Macfarlane’s appealingly solid vocals. The contrast between the swaying melodies and his emotional vocals is one of Friendly Fires’ secret weapons: A great rhythm can take you so far, but a good singer pushes it over the top into play-on-repeat status.
Despite the band’s focus on making people move, there is some variety within the movements Friendly Fires wishes to inspire. The standout title track shines as the best example of this. Borrowing from the so-called “PBR&B” movement that includes artists like the Weeknd and Frank Ocean, “Pala” slows the proceedings down as the album turns over to its stellar second half. Macfarlane adopts his most ethereal voice as the four-minute track swoons back and forth like a couple at 4 a.m. Pacing is what this album has in the right: The next track, “Show Me Lights,” picks up the pace without bludgeoning the listener with another samba-esque tune, which is exactly what the next two, “True Love” and “Pull Me Back To Earth,” provide.
Then there’s “Chimes,” the best song on the album and one that will represent Friendly Fires on the indie club soundtrack. Starting with distinct (and cheesy) wind chimes, the track then evolves into a slow-paced romp through the brightest parts of the night. It’s infectious, it’s energetic, and it features a hell of a chorus: “I can’t stop chasing your love!” As the swirling “Helpless” closes out the album amidst the sound of seagulls, morning has come for Pala‘s night, and damn if we all don’t need some time to rest … or to press play again.