❉ This quintet follow in a long line of classic Northern Irish power pop bands, but are very much their own band.
Belfast-based Lloyd Cole obsessives Brand New Friend (there’s a clue in the name) release their new E.P. A Cure for Living on Valentine’s Day, a suitable date for their smart take on life and love in the modern age.
The E.P.’s seven tracks represent the band’s most substantial release since their highly regarded 2018 debut album Seatbelts for Aeroplanes (check out the wonderful I Was An Astronaut) and sees them making big strides both sonically and lyrically.
Named after Lloyd Cole’s plaintive 1985 hit, Brand New Friend are no soundalikes of the Buxton bard, preferring a breakneck brand of power pop which reveals a myriad influences whilst achieving its own distinctive sound.
The Castlerock (brilliant!) quintet open A Cure for Living with the storming She Always Comes Up Smiling – its main riff is reminiscent of The Strokes Hard to Explain, but the song is reminiscent of early 2000s American pop punk and tells the tale of a young man’s desperate wishes to be forgiven. Anyone who’s ever ‘let themselves down’ can identify with the great line:
If I get my head straight, would you help me out, mate?
And if there were ever any accusations of Brand New Friend trying to sound American, the way lead singer Taylor Johnson pronounces the word council in:
I was sad
From living rooms – in council flats
will have their theory disavowed almost immediately.
If anything, The Letter A is even faster: a young man tries to unbreak a lover’s heart – with predictably disastrous results. It’s a short, sharp shock of a song that draws on a fine Northern Irish tradition of melodic punk and power pop and young unrequited love.
The sentiment of track three’s Stop the Days reminds me of fellow Norn Irishman Louis MacNeice’s great poem Christmas Shopping and the impossible desire to crystallise a moment of tranquillity and beauty in a scary world. What a pity that MacNeice never showed any predilection for electric guitar-based rock and preferred to hang around with WH Auden, who – if he’d lived long enough – could have been the lead singer of Morrissey/Marr tribute band The WH Smiths…
The Karma Party seems to do the impossible by speeding things up even further, while Nothing Stays the Same cleverly reimagines the lovers from Lloyd Cole’s Jennifer, She Said meeting up years later in Belfast’s bohemian Botanic area. Sorry for the spoiler, but as is the way of Cure for Living, it doesn’t end well. It’s a future Kerrang! channel classic.
The delicate acoustic ballad You Can’t Know Everything, I Don’t Know Anything is (for me) the highlight of the EP. It’s a wistful, elegiac love song, capturing and celebrating the joys of finding ‘the one’:
She said that maybe we were born in the wrong time
I said ‘Yes, you’re probably right’,
Why did she always settle for silver?
She just shrugged
And I said, ‘You’re better than that’….
It’s a really haunting track and weighing in (if time, in fact, can be weighed) at just 82 seconds, it’s a little songwriting gem.
The EP’s closer Plastic Flowers ups the tempo again, but returns to that pesky subject of love going wrong and wilting and dying – which is nearly always true, but as Elizabeth Barrett-Browning once said: “You’ve got to be in it to win it!”
A Cure for Living is a tremendous E.P. fusing a range of musical styles to great effect. Songwriters, vocal harmony providers – and brother and sister – Taylor and Lauren Johnson have set a high standard in preparation for their sophomore album, and follow in a long line of classic Northern Irish power pop bands such as Rudi, The Starjets and The Undertones in the late seventies to Tim Wheeler’s Ash from somewhat more recent times.
There are elements of American punk pop, Green Day, The Magic Numbers and any number of great contemporary songwriters in A Cure for Living, but Brand New Friend are very much their own band.
❉ ‘A Cure For Living’, to be released via Xtra Mile Recordings on 14 February 2020. Pre-order/Stream here: https://brandnewfriend.lnk.to/