Friends of the Library – A Rolling Blackout

Friends of the Library
A Rolling Blackout

Simple. Clear. Concise. Sparse. All words that come to mind before I even pop the CD into the player. Friends of the Library, a four-piece Philadelphia band, partake in the genre of slow-core, quiet and contemplative rock that uses silence as a vital instrument. Turn up the volume before you start this release, and get comfortable, because Friends of the Library play lovely, relaxing music that is perfect for late-night listening.
For all my talk of slow and quiet, “Asleep at the Wheel” starts off with the sound of light cymbals and thick but quiet bass lines. This instrumental isn’t especially quiet as much as it’s deliberate, with each stroke chord and each drum beat precisely played for a somber yet melodic sound. It leads nicely into the quieter “Snow and Sand,” and the vocals come in hushed and sparse. “Don’t Be So Hard” is over 6 minutes long, and it’s full of soft drums, deliberately played guitar, and quiet vocals. This one is bound to evoke the band’s desired thoughtful, introspective mood. Things pick up on the darker “I Settled for You,” a quiet yet flowing track, and here the vocals aren’t quite so hushed, allowing you to feel the subtle desperation of the lyrics. At many moments on “You Can’t Prove a Thing,” the singer is almost unaccompanied except for some light guitar, but the quiet drums and bass come in to give the song a fuller, richer feel. And “She Finally Agrees” finishes off with a bit more of a folk quality, the vocals louder and more emphasized, with an acoustic guitar backing. This song is quite impressive, reminding me of the Dirty Three in its quiet yet ominous feel.
This album leads me to think about the whole style of slow-core. Loosely based upon rock and folk music, it should be a genre all of its own, dominated by bands like Low and Ida but really made up of so many wonderful bands. It’s a style I never used to have patience for, especially when bands take it to the extreme that Friends of the Library do. Sometimes music can be too quiet, too sparse, with too little action. But that’s not the fault of the music, rather the listener and the time spent listening. At other times, for example when the light is dim and the window is blowing in soft night-time breezes, this music is perfect. Yes, it’s very quiet, very sparse and deliberate, but that conveys a beautiful mood of desperation, longing, or even peace.
Friends of the Library prove their talent, not by playing fast or long, complex pieces, but by playing what is more difficult than you’d expect: quietly. These songs are deliberate and peaceful, full of quiet melodic guitar and soft drums and even softer vocals. Quite lovely when taken at the right time.