The few and privileged enough to be aware of the Coma Recovery's brilliant full-length, 2006's Drown That Holy End in Wine, will be ecstatic to hear Great Friend of Mine's Desperate Songs. Like the Coma Recovery, Great Friend of Mine have concocted a hauntingly atmospheric, occasionally spine-tingling progressive (post-)hardcore album that, considering its March 2009 release, has flown criminally below blog radars. And while it ain't perfect, for a virtually unknown DIY act from the southeast tip of America, it's (sporadically) exceptional.
Desperate Songs plays out a bit like a more dissonant hybrid of the thicker but pissed modern hardcore influence of Life Long Tragedy with a less professional-sounding, condensed take on the darkly swirling post-metal soundscapes of Red Sparowes, without necessarily catering too heavily to either field. They've got their effects pedals, sure, but they're used with a profoundly insistent manner of tastefulness and a solid grip on dynamism.
There's a restrained pacing here that's played off well for a more enlivened drive in "We,", or the outraged desperation and thumping stop-starts of "Tabula Rasa." The band claims Refused and Thursday as influences in the liner notes, but that'll be obvious to some--it practically sounds like Geoff Rickly is guesting in "Monarch," while the piano and harmonica-inflected "(A Man Is Born)" employs the experimentation of Waiting and the morose, instrumentally esoteric vibe of "The Apollo Programme Was a Hoax" all at once. And in "This Shitty," where their singer's raspy request to "bring back the new noise" is followed by an explosion of noise from a highly populated crowd? Take a guess.
Of course, with such a wildly experimental slant that takes from relatively heterogeneous hardcore sub-styles, you have to expect they'll be operating with some obscure and possibly profound aesthetic and mindset too. The former--definitely. The latter--questionable. Desperate Songs appears to be a linear, first-person narrative arc with every song acting as a crucial chapter towards the tale. It's a little vague and hard to follow, though, while the album is contained within a paperback book--the lyrics and liner notes, essentially--to further reveal Desperate Songs as both a musical and literary package, complete with Ayn Rand and Kurt Vonnegut references. Still, the band seem to work it with an intentionally obscure tilt.
There's only one moment where Great Friend of Mine's ambitiousness goes awry: "Monarch." There's another vocalist, perhaps a guest, androgynously singing a few lines in an entirely too sharp melodic contrast--it sounds like the ugly love child of Melanie Willis (the female guest singer on the early From Autumn to Ashes albums) and an awful early Coheed and Cambria demo. It just slaughters the momentum. The transition between the layered, ringing riffs of the heavily instrumental "Twenty-Twelve" and its vocally-driven followup section is a little shoehorned too, but it's forgivable, as the song builds a pummeling crescendo that's only beaten later by the heartrending, emotionally weary "The World."
Overall, Desperate Songs is maintained with a vivid, realized, and surprisingly fresh scope that belies its completely homespun base of creation. DIY seems of utmost importance to this quartet, so if they continue to avoid outside interference (great friends or otherwise), as long as they manage to progress and grow into their endless potential one can only encourage them to continue going it alone.