Album review by William Dibble, images provided by
When we last saw them last fall, Smoke From All the Friction had just released their latest single, “The Clumsiest Waltz”. It was an excellent blending of indie rock and electronic elements, scoring radio play all over central North Carolina. Now, SFAtF is back at it again with their EP, Transience. Transience is a conceptual album about adults going through a sort of second puberty. It explores a lot of concepts that define modern adulthood and how it differs from previous generations.
Transience opens up with an old single, “Cross & Tattoo”. As we previously covered, it is a radio hit that is easy on the ears and combines soft vocals with a soothing electronic backbeat. The lyrics speak to those late night conversations we have sometimes with new people we meet. Conversations where we find out a stranger shares our grief, joy, and trauma. It’s something that a lot of young adults can empathize with. The decision to open the album with such an excellent piece definitely puts you in the right place for listening to the remaining tracks. Where “Cross & Tattoo” ends in the early morning, “Grasp (Interlude 1.1)” begins with the singer waking up. “Grasp” is an ambient piece with a touch of mourning. The sound matches the lyrics, mourning a time when they had comfort and safety. However, the song is not sad. If anything, it is determined and angry, as the singer declares that we will “do what our parents failed to and what our leaders would not decree”. It ends on a quietly drifting note that is disrupted by the loud, intense intro of “Panther”.
Despite the jarring opening notes, “Panther” isn’t really a particularly fast or aggressive song. The faster tempo really lends itself to the entire album without being overwhelming or out of place. It helps that the vocals temper it with their long, drawn out notes. Carrying on the theme at the end of “Grasp”, it declares that “we” won’t tolerate the abuses anymore, and that when pushed into the corner, the claws come out. The next interlude is titled “I, the Master (Interlude 1.2” and and is an interesting contrast, lyrically, to the prior tracks. The singer is basically declaring that they will do as they please, regardless of what others say or their personal safety. The song even goes a step further, declaring that they’ll burn the bridges behind them. As far as the audio landscape that the song paints, it is almost entirely bass and vocals. This brings the album back to a slower feel and truly gives the impression of this being an interlude more than a song.
“One of You” opens with a fast, almost trance-like series of build-ups, complete with the high-range echoing vocals. It wouldn’t be out of place to hear this in late 90’s and early 00’s club songs. The song interestingly combines the elements of the album so far with a rapped verse that feels anxcious and frantic. Given that the verse is about someone who desperately needs to prove to themselves that they are an adult, this feels very appropriate. The song alternates between hip-hop inspired segments and club inspired sections, showing off the diversity of songwriting that SFAtF is capable of. It is followed by “Dreaming Abating (Interlude 1.3)”, which feels like a soothing sea of ambience after “One of You”. The soft, instrumental song feels like a long build-up to “Meant to Be”, which is a more traditionally indie pop song. “Meant to Be” is a song that appears to be about realizing that a person has hurt others and damaged themselves in their quest for self definition, and the shame that follows. The song is nonetheless light and catchy, with a very dance-inspiring feel to it. Despite the lyrics, the song feels optimistic and hopeful of a better future by paying heed to the past.
The upbeat and swift song melts into another ambient piece, “Regrowth (Interlude 1.4)”. SFAtF collaborated with Disqo Volante to bring this track to life, and it shows. The song is distinctly unique amongst the rest of the album, feeling more like a post-rock ensemble piece than electropop. That isn’t a bad thing, though. It gives a feeling of ending and finality to the closing moments of the album, before it fades into “Bead of the Necklace”. The change in sound is appropriate, because the last song is decidedly indie rock. It has a focus on clean guitars and considerably less electronic influence than the rest of the album. This helps it immensely, as it is also the album send-off, and really stands out. This song also brings the album full circle. The narrator and singer we have been following has realized that they didn’t get to their adult life, or beyond, on their own. They begin asking who they will help lift up in the future, showing a growing maturity from start to finish.
Transience is the type of mature concept album that some bands take decades to master. Both musically and lyrically, it progresses through themes and periods until reaching a different sound and realization than the opening songs. SFAtF has developed a distinct sound that defines who they are as a group, and is sure to attract both their old fans and new listeners alike. Interestingly, some of the themes presented in Transience will also appeal to people who feel lost and marginalized by society. This is an album you must pick up as soon as possible! The album becomes available Friday! Be sure to pick it up from the band themselves or Bandcamp as soon as you can!