There is a disheartening trend in the music scene that does not make any sense to me. No, I’m not talking about listening to Attila, I’m talking about hating things simply for the sake of hating things. It has somehow become cool to hate certain things for no other reason than to join in the pretentious circle jerk of hating it. If you’ve ever wandered into a comment thread regarding Real Friends, then you’ve witnessed this phenomenon first hand. With the release of the Chicago pop-punkers’ debut full length, Maybe This Place Is The Same And We’re Just Changing, the conversation won’t be ending soon. But before the hordes of angry Internet warriors rile themselves up into a frenzy about it, I’m here to give you an honest, levelheaded perspective on what this album is. And this album is, in a word: solid.
A common knock on the band is that the brand of pop-punk they deliver is generic and unoriginal, which is a reasonable enough statement. While I do think that generic is too harsh of a word, the band doesn’t take too many chances musically. Their previous EPs have been fairly standard pop-punk delivered exceptionally. But with this debut full-length, there are certainly hints of exploration. Emo twinges are scattered throughout, manifesting themselves in the bursting and booming moments of “Old Book” and the swirling guitar twinkles of “To My Old Self”. The usual upbeat pop-punk is abundantly present, but the album’s greatest strengths are in the off-kilter moments. We have seen the soft, slow side of Real Friends before, but never with the level of execution shown on the intensely vulnerable “Sixteen”. Even the aforementioned aggressive moments are conveyed in more interesting ways than the band has been known to deliver. There are more dynamic traits featured, more experimentation with tempos, allowing songs to breathe. Real Friends will never take an astounding departure music-wise, but Maybe This Place… shows that they won’t remain stagnant. There is some exploration alive in the band.
One aspect of the musical expansion the band shows is in the vocals of singer Dan Lambton. He has fully embraced a gravelly tone that ends up being more of a detriment than a tool. When utilized correctly, it adds a powerful, emotive push to the track, exemplified in the crushing final refrains of “I’m dirty from head to toe” on “To My Old Self”. But Lambton finds himself leaning on the new style excessively on the record, wearing its clout thin. If used more sparingly and exclusively, the strained vocals would pack much more of an emotional impact. But in its current utilization, it comes across as a desperate attempt to replicate the sound of their peers, namely The Wonder Years.
“But Nick,” you yell at your computer screen, torch and pitchfork in hand, “you’re missing the band’s biggest flaw. Those sleepy eyed fucks write terrible lyrics”. Well I’m glad you brought it up, angry Internet commenter. I firmly believe that the lyrics are the strongest aspect of Maybe This Place…, the backbone of the entire record. Yes, the lyrics that Real Friends write can find themselves drifting onto the cheesy side of the spectrum. But why does the band catch so much more flak for it than anyone else? Why do the droves of self-deprecating emo bands get praised while Real Friends gets crucified for the same “heart on my sleeve” mentality? I can concede that the lyrics are, at times, overly simple and basic, but who’s to say that they’re still not relatable. The themes of change, growing up, and loneliness might seem played-out or overly dramatic to you, but to someone else they might hit home. I’m not saying that Real Friends are out here delivering life-changing poetry, but they are delivering something with substance, whether it pertains to you or not. The lyrics are the most integral part of this entire record.
Maybe We’re The Same And This Place Is Just Changing is a good record. That is really the most fitting adjective I have for it. It’s not great. It has flaws. Lots of them. It’s a good pop-punk album that shows glimpses of a band looking to break out. If they hone in on those glimpses, they could really produce something great. Or they could keep releasing solid pop-punk records. It doesn’t matter. What I am really trying to explore with this review is the hate. Why do people hate this band? Where does that hate come from? There are so many other bands legitimately worthy of your wrath, so why this one? Are bands like Handguns, Major League, or State Champs really that much better? If you don’t like this style of music, you’re not going to like Real Friends. There is no reason you would. But if you are a fan of this scene, there really is no reason for the hate. Real Friends created an honest, emotional display on this record, and I’m sure if you gave it an unbiased chance, that hate would dissipate, and we could all take it and point it toward something more worthy. Like Attila.