Real Friends "Composure" Review
Chicago pop-punk band Real Friends’ third full-length effort, Composure, trades the band’s trademark high-gain guitars and fast, aggressive drums for clean, chiming guitars and smooth vocal melodies that highlight a maturation in sound that only select few bands have been able to achieve. Composure takes subject matters that Real Friends have touched on before and explores them in a much more poetic and yet still much more relatable way than before. The record feels genuine, honest, and presents a clear and important message.
Lyrically, it is immediately apparent that the album comes from a very personal place. Vocalist Dan Lambton opens up and allows a firsthand look at the hardships and mental health struggles that he has experienced, with songs like “From the Outside” asking questions like “why do I feel so damn cold? Why am I still so low?” and “Smiling on the Surface” stating “anxiety holds my hand when life gets hopeless.” These lyrics paint a very clear picture of an often gloomy and scarily uncertain headspace that many listeners can relate to and grasp onto, showing that self-doubt, depression, and anxiety struggles are things that everyone experiences and that being open about these struggles is okay.
The album also offers glimpses of hope within these dark and very serious themes, with songs like the title track, “Composure,” stating “I’m reclaiming my composure, lately I’ll bend, smile, and pretend to be stable,” and the album’s finale, “Take a Hint” proclaiming “I’m learning to take a hint, stay convinced, we’ll see the other side.” Here, we see Lambton reassuring the listener that while these struggles are difficult and can be hard to overcome, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and things will eventually come to a positive resolve.
Instrumentally, this is easily the most musically diverse and yet still sonically coherent Real Friends album to date. Songs like “Me First” and “Stand Steady” offer the angst and aggression that fans of the band’s earlier works will appreciate, while “From the Outside” offers a dance-inducing groove reminiscent of The Starting Line and other early 2000’s acts, but presented in such a way that feels fresh, exciting, and still maintains a distinct Real Friends identity. “Unconditional Love,” a slow-paced ballad, highlights Lambton’s voice in a way that has been previously unheard from the vocalist, with a passionate vocal performance that is heart-wrenching and a true highlight of the record.
Overall, this album is without a doubt the finest collection of songs that Real Friends have released. It proves that a band can tackle serious subject matters in an eloquent manner while still conveying a powerful message, as well as push the boundaries of their sound into new territories without feeling forced or tired. Its only downfall is the length – at only ten songs, the conclusion of the final track will leave fans wishing that the album went on for much much longer.
By Trevor Hancock