It’s hard to point out the exact reason why I fell in love with Friends W/O Benefits. Maybe it was that goofy promo video they sent me expressing their affection for the Bay Bridged. Maybe it was the included email that featured drummer Cadet Edac lambasting the mediocre state of the modern live music scene and decrying “Thee Oh See You Laters'” exodus from San Francisco. Or maybe it’s their association with Balanced Breakfast, a community of musicians striving to keep interesting, thought-provoking music alive despite trying times in the Bay. It could’ve possibly been the fact that they released a comic book accompaniment to their debut release This Is Real, electrifying every positive nerd impulse in my body. But, no, the answer is even simpler than all of that. It was their music.
Yes, while the subject matter for their new LP could’ve been fodder for a laborious post-modern novel – an existential search for meaning in the disconnected 21st century – Friends turn it into a party, albeit a strange and sometimes frightening one. Pulling equally from the shock punk of the Dwarves and the eccentric humor of Frank Zappa (and, I would even add, “Weird Al” Yankovic), Friends W/O Benefits tackle everything from the eternal search for the next high (“Re-enact The Basement”) to the pitiful state of the next generation (“Modern Youth of America”). Guitarist White Trash Ninja can unleash furious distortion in one song and just as easily bust out a danceable, catchy riff in the next, completely encapsulating their self-described sound ‘disco-punk.’ I always knew punk rock was cool, but somehow this slightly insane duo was able to make disco palatable for the miscreants too.
The true highlight of the album, for me, is “Real Enough for California,” a delightfully biting satire of Cali culture, calling out all those self-important people too cool to take off their sunglasses or put down their smartphone. It’s a cathartic release, a much needed attack on the elitism that infects the state’s biggest cities (looking at you San Francisco and Los Angeles), a finger pointed directly at inhabitants who’ve bought into the artificial myth that organic grocery stores and hybrid cars automatically make you a better person. Simply put, it’s a deconstruction of the pervasive smugness that even natives of the state are prone to falling into. If you’ve experienced that feeling of looking around and thinking you may not be hip enough for the wine-sipping, yacht-sailing, tech-broing gentry, don’t worry, because there isn’t a trace of authenticity in their well-polished bones anyway. If you want a ‘real’ slice of California, check out Friends W/O Benefits.
You can catch the band’s surreal live act this Thursday for their Halloween show at El Rio where they will be performing Blink 182’s Enema of the State in its entirety. Download the album now along with the comic book for the full FWOB experience.