Published Apr 15, 2020What an excellently crafted and simply lovely record from this under-the-radar Brooklyn group. At first, Good Looking Friends' second album The Light of the Well might scan as run-of-the-mill Midwest emo, but the record soon unfolds in a multitude of ways that are beautifully orchestrated to grab your attention not by trying to one-up the emotional, first-person fervor of their peers, but by setting scenes that transport you out of your own body.
Singer Zach Fischer wrote the album as a coping mechanism during a months-long battle with insomnia, incorporating dystopian sci-fi themes influenced by the likes of Star Trek and author Haruki Murakami. "Another night locked up waiting for the sun to shine," Fischer sings in "Bravery," the record's resplendent opening statement. The formidable "Survive" depicts insomnia as a literal battle, referencing the death of Japan's Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in Operation Vengeance during the Second World War while also nodding to the Japanese superhero webcomic One-Punch Man. "When I'm awake, can't tell if I'm alive," Fischer repeats.
But while The Light of the Well is high-minded and densely layered, it's also sympathetic and approachable. The key is that Good Looking Friends are admirably modest and precise in their songwriting, yet relentlessly ambitious in their arrangements. The band have the hallmarks of contemporaries like Death Cab for Cutie, Cursive and Into It. Over It., but they don't stop there. Leaning on the classical background of producer Lorenzo Wolff, the band incorporates an abundance of piano, string sections, vibraphones, horns, electronics, shruti boxes and natural sound effects. The result is much fuller and brighter — in sound and in composition — than the band's 2018 debut Settle In, Decay, and they reach great heights and stunning depths.
"Multiply" does mathy, jazzy emo really well, moving with lightning speed and dexterity in the verses and settling into an excellent, poignant refrain. "Lawman" filters a sad power-pop song through the lo-fi mechanics of an arcade game. "Tanagra" combines a lounge jam with gorgeous post-rock atmospherics. There's a quiet intensity in "Structure," and the communally sung "Chased" has pure moments of joy, friendship and levity. "Leonard" is a lovely little indie-folk song that ends the album by planting a seed and seeing it through to full bloom. The quirky rocker "Euphoria" sneakily showcases Good Looking Friends' attention to detail.
The vocal melodies work in perfect tandem with the guitar work, and just about every band member's part has some sort of hook worked into it. There's a lot that's reeling you in. With every wall covered in flypaper, you're bound to get stuck somewhere. The Light of the Well conceals itself as somewhat ordinary for the sake of relatability, but Good Looking Friends can rest assured that they made something subtly extraordinary. (We're Trying)