Real Friends - The Home Inside My Head (Cover Artwork)

Real Friends

The Home Inside My Head (2016)

Fearless Records

A great sophomore album can catapult a band to stardom; Fall out Boy’s Under a Cork Tree, Nirvana’s Nevermind, Weezer’s Pinkerton. A lengthy list reflecting the importance of a great second impression, or really the first for most fans. But if album number two fails it can turnoff fans just like a bad second date can shut off the motor of a well revved damsel. Ready to take the main stage at Warped Tour for the first time, Real Friends needs the momentum.

The Chicago-based bunch are already backed by a strong, youthful following. They’re known for playing true to their idols, bands like Jimmy Eat World and Brand New, with constant pace, emotion and genuine lyrics. It’s helped them edge their way to the top of the scene relatively quickly. But their song writing sometimes rubs awkward and it’s well known that singer Dan Lampton isn’t exactly Freddy Mercury.

But such flaws are not noticeable in the opening tune, Stay In One Place. An aggressive, quintessential first track, Lampton’s vocals blend effortlessly with an echoing chorus. By Real Friends standards, the song is heavily produced, but its production intricacy aren’t really noticed unless the listener has an ear primed for them. Empty Picture Frames furlong’s the album’s momentum with an aggressive chorus and casual pace changes throughout. Reflecting the album’s main theme with the lyrics, “The home inside my head for me has a bed for me, That no one will ever see,” the song features a poppier sound similar to the genre’s mid-2000s productions.

Track three, Keep Lying To Me is also stellar, giving the album plenty of substance up front. It’s bouncy, catchy and probably single worthy. The Home Inside My Head’s strongest tracks are Mess, Basement Stairs and Mokena, the latter of the three maybe being the band’s slowest tune to date. It’s very atmospheric, Lampton’s vocals staccato and soft. Noticeably nostalgic and crass, it’ll appeal to the old school Real Friends fan. Personally, the somewhat anthem-like guitar riff underlining the final verse stands out to me. Conversely, Mess and Basement Stairs hit hard. The former is a head bopper, with a catchy chorus. To me, it’s the most single-friendly track on the album. Basement Stairs might be the punkiest song. Buried deep in the album, it’s probably a track the band figured would flop. But it’s stellar, almost reflecting a Descendants-like sound. Aggressive from beginning to end, it’s a hidden gem in the album.

Scared To Be Alone is the album’s darkest blemish. It’s clunky and unbefitting to the rest of the record. Its awkward hook and confusing pace throws off the listener. Basically, it’s skip worthy. There are a few songs that feel like filler; but even those possess some attribute to draw you in- like the chorus in Door Without A Key and soft guitar that opens Eastwick. A peculiar note, the album’s first single, Colder Quicker, is the final song on The Home Inside My head.

Broadly speaking, the album’s production immediately stands out. The skills of Steve Evetts (The Wonder Years and Saves The Day) are to thank for that. Maybe that’s why The Home Inside My Head reeks of TWY’s The Greatest Generation. The album’s diversity, at least in comparison to its predecessors, is to be appreciated. And for me, the unapologic emo-ness of Real Friends is just so wonderful. I think many bands try to save the more personal lyrics for B-side tracks, but Real Friends lays them out front and center. Cheesy lines like “I’m a rain cloud, but the sun is shining through me” and “ Last year I was a train wreck, now I’m just a mess” just resonate with “old timers” who grew up blaring Brand New or The Used.

But the musician who really sparkles in this album is Lampton. He vocal tones, inflexion and just overall sound blends perfectly with nearly every melody. Never sounding too shrill, Lampton almost seems to dial it back compared to previous work. But ultimately less is more and the lead singer shines incredibly bright. Frankly, it’s a giant leap from what he used to be.

Real Friends were stuck in a mosh pit of pop-punkers struggling to stand out. But The Home Inside My Head truly is exemplary work on so many levels, and Lampton is largely to thank. The album should turn this once opening act into a group that comfortably headlines its own tours. Now, what will album three bring?