Real Friends – ‘Torn In Two’

By Sean Reid

With their 2018 record, ‘Composure’, Real Friends came into their own with a set of emotionally charged and vibrant pop-rock songs. It would, however, would be the band’s last with vocalist Dan Lambton. After 10 years with the Illinois group, he parted ways in early 2020 leaving fans guessing what the future would hold for Real Friends – if anything at all.

18 months on, the arrival of Cody Muraro, formerly of Youth Fountain, has breathed new life into the quintet with ‘Torn In Two’ serving as the first page in this new chapter. Admittedly just like when any new vocalist comes into an established band, Muraro has big shoes to fill; for a decade, Lambton had served as the emotional anchor for Real Friends yet as this collection of five songs show, Muraro admirably steps up to the plate.

Throughout, he executes the required emotion with conviction. On the stripped-back number ‘Teeth’, he provides a sincere performance complemented by a harmonious acoustic guitar and lyrically, this track leans into the theme of self-reflection that is a familiar trope of Real Friends. Here Muraro sings about a torturous two years, remembering a departed loved one and being unable to pull himself out of this lull no matter what.

It’s preceded by two energetic numbers as ‘Remedy for Reality’ and ‘Nervous Wreck’, two tracks that individually blaze through in under three minutes. The former details the frustration many of us have experienced over the past 18 months; stuck inside and in a mental rut, desperate for a dose of normality. It’s backed by a rapid tempo and soaring guitars, adding plenty of urgency – a fine EP opener but there are still far better moments to be found.

‘Nervous Wreck’ is one of them. Musically it’s stronger and glows in its chorus, pushing Muraro’s vocals to the forefront, documenting a feeling of isolation and anxiety with emphasis on the line “I wanna see me again”. As ‘Composure’ showed, Real Friends have a flair for countering personal and sensitive topics with bold, memorable hooks. This is no different.

While Dan Lambton considerably didn’t have the most distinctive vocals, he easily provided Real Friends with a strong identity. Unfortunately for Cody Muraro, this isn’t always the case. ‘Spinning’ is a forgettable cut that comfortably sits in the pop-punk mould, and while its delivered with an abundance of energy, it just doesn’t dissimilar to dozens of other bands.

Thankfully, EP closer ‘Storyteller’ comes to the rescue. It takes all the characteristics that made those opening two songs good and raises their sound to another level. Riddled with bitterness and anger, Muraro provides personality to his vocal with the EP’s most memorable, albeit simple, choruses. Thriving with energy, some neat guitar melodies courtesy of Dave Knox, and Brian Blake’s punchy drumming, ‘Storyteller’ makes a satisfying conclusion to EP’s main course.

If anyone has followed Real Friends’ career closely, then you’ll know they often reimagined / rework their songs and here is no different. All five tracks are modified, with ‘Remedy for Reality’ being given the drum machine treatment, and putting Muraro’s vocals centre stage. ‘Nervous Wreck’ emphasises its winding guitar melody, slightly reining its tempo in the process.

The alternate take of ‘Spinning’ is possibly better than the original, with light keys and acoustics bringing a harmonious tone, and ‘Teeth’ is injected with full band urgency, giving it an explosive chorus with subtly gritty guitars and one of Muraro’s best vocal performances. Finally, ‘Storyteller’ is reworked as an atmospheric number with distant hypnotic piano keys and a simple drum machine beat. While it’s not on par with the original, it doesn’t diminish its lyrical quality.

Even though there’s a new voice, Real Friends continue to deliver praiseworthy pop-rock / pop-punk songs. While ‘Torn in Two’ only provides two or three moments with real longevity, this five (or ten) song collection grants the new line-up with a foundation to build upon going forward. Some fans might take time adjusting to Muraro, yet it’s clear he’s quickly embedded himself into what Real Friends are all about; emotionally sincere songs with memorable hooks.

SÊAN REID

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