Friendly Fires

Inflorescent

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On their 2008 self-titled debut and 2011's Pala, Friendly Fires crafted a prescient sound that blended dance-punk, dream pop, and flirtations with more straightforward dance music -- and then they disappeared for eight years. While they were gone, the gaps between indie, dance, and pop that they bridged continued to shrink; listening to Inflorescent, it's clear that Friendly Fires have managed to keep up with the times and remain true to what made them stand out in the first place. It's more than a little ironic that they begin their first album in nearly a decade with a song called "Can't Wait Forever," but it immediately plunges listeners into their dance floor euphoria -- a skill they've used expertly since 2008's "Jump in the Pool." Here and on "Heaven Let Me In," an insistent homage to disco (both the original and filter-disco varieties), it feels like no time has passed since the Pala days. Though the smoother contours of songs such as "Love Like Waves" reflect the streamlined sound of the late 2010s, Friendly Fires' songwriting remains distinctive on Inflorescent. On "Silhouettes," the lyrics "All the memories of you/They bleach with the sunshine" capture the fleeting joys of a vacation fling just as vividly as its sunny vibe. At times, that vibe borders on too consistent, although it's hard to argue when Friendly Fires are so good at writing effervescent songs like "Almost Midnight." Fortunately, Inflorescent stays on the right side of the fine line between cohesive and samey, largely because the band expands their range of moods and sounds later on the album. They add a darker mood, as well an '80s synth pop influence, to "Sleeptalking," a naggingly catchy tale of insomnia and jealousy set to a spiraling keyboard hook. The band proves once again that they're in touch with dance music's roots as well as its current sound with their standout cover of Charles B. & Adonis' "Lack of Love," where robotic harmonies and old-school orchestral synth stabs add some fun twists to the 1988 house classic. Friendly Fires close Inflorescent with one of its most intriguing songs: Driven by a thumb piano melody and a moody yet idealistic feel, "Run the Wild Flowers" feels like it belongs in a dystopian sci-fi movie instead the clubs and beaches that are the band's natural habitat. This skillful balance of consistency and surprises -- as well as the past, present, and future of dance, indie, and pop -- makes Inflorescent a more than welcome return.

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