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Album of the Month: Friendship - Love the Stranger

In a fast-paced world, it takes a certain willingness to hone in on the smaller things, the run-of-the-mill parts and feelings of life that sometimes just float by in routine motion. Focusing on seemingly mundane details, and slowing down in the process, can reveal missed emotions, little revelations, hidden truths, if you stop to take them in. The Philadelphia band Friendship takes this kind of approach in their songwriting, bringing that small-scale attention to a laid-back alt-country sound. On their latest album, Love the Stranger, their first for indie stalwart Merge Records, the band peers into life piece by piece to see what they can find and feel in simple moments.

The band establishes their sound world right out of the gate on “St. Bonaventure,” with spacious strums, flowing pedal steel, and a relaxed pace fitting for the introspection on daily life the song provides. Frontman Dan Wriggins has a low, drawly voice, sounding world-weary as he depicts a state of living situated between wanting a distraction and wanting none, and the pull between wanting to live in the moment and wanting to stop and document. This dual mindset, of self-awareness of how you’re living and its ups and downs, plays out again in tracks like “Hank,” with rippling guitar soundtracking Wriggins’ “making it through, for better or worse” attitude on life today. The band takes on weighty thoughts found inside the everyday, but makes time for short diversions too. The album is scattered with small instrumental numbers, amusingly named after gas station and convenience store chains. Personally, I have to pick “UDF” as my favorite on multiple fronts.

Friendship sit firmly in a twangy zone for most of the album, but also throw some stylistic curveballs along the way. The stuttery keyboards and floating piano chords of “Alive Twice” stand out in particular, sounding like nothing else surrounding it. In other places on the album, the sole guest vocal belongs to Jess Shoman of the Chicago band Tenci, lending her voice to a hazy, ambient-country meditation on what a partner’s thinking on “What’s The Move.” This song makes a good example of showing the ruminative place so many tracks on Love the Stranger live in, a constant inward-looking-out approach, not just thinking about the world around you and the people in it, but about those thoughts themselves, and where they lead to.

Taking a slowed-down, “small details made large” approach to life can be harder and harder the faster things get. It can seem like moving mountains for treating little moments and quick thoughts not as daily ephemera but something to chew on, to truly look at and glean something from. Wriggins and company in Friendship show a way to bring those things into perspective, whether it’s something heavy or light to find inside. Take the time with Love the Stranger, and maybe you’ll notice some things you didn’t before too.

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Evan Miller is a percussionist, lover of sound, and is probably buying too many cassette tapes online right now. Evan got his start in radio in 2012 at WWSU at Wright State University, where he was studying percussion performance. He followed through with both endeavors and eventually landed a lucrative dual career playing experimental music at home and abroad, and broadcasting those sounds to unsuspecting listeners Sunday nights on The Outside. Maintaining a connection to normal music, Evan also plays drums in bands around the area, and hosts WYSO's Midday Music show. When not doing something music-related, Evan is most likely listening to podcasts or watching food videos at home with his cat.