Alexei Berrow’s “press release” for his third Yr Friends EP isn’t like the hard sell drivel that clogs my inbox. Refreshingly honest, it lacks the braggadocio of artists and dull PR agents who really ought to know better. Which is great, but as a result you can’t help feel that Berrow doesn’t expect much to come out of this side project. You get the impression that it’s a bit rushed. Done not without love, but still out of “necessity”. Which as it turns out, isn’t always a bad thing.
The instrumentation and recordings presented easily surpass Yr Friends’ previous efforts, but don’t quite break free of the DIY bedroom aesthetic – which is just as well, because this time around, Berrow’s heartfelt spoken word stories thrive off it. Never once does he sound contrived, yet you can never quite tell whether these words were penned in an afternoon, or over extended months. But does that really matter? The lyrics and instrumentation complement each other perfectly, and those familiar with his work will attest to Berrow being an excellent story-teller more than capable of turning a phrase or two.
Lewes Herriot, Johnny Foreigner’s longtime artist and new guitarist, called these songs “plays”. After multiple listens, it seems like a more than apt description, because disregarding the cover of Modest Mouse’s “Third Planet”, that’s exactly what we’re presented with: a loose three-act structure. A set of narratives that fit together in the most unassuming, yet graceful manner.
The drunken tales of girls, parties, and relativistic fame of “My Summer in Ibeefa” develop a hazily bright start to the release. The sullen beats almost make you want to dance, in a shuffle-around-your-bedroom kind of way.
We’re then rather abruptly thrown into “Adults, At Last”, which deals with heartbreak in its most potent, perspective-ridden form. You’d be forgiven for thinking that a bedroom musician doing spoken word about romantic loss would be self-indulgent and clichéd, but you’d also be wrong. The ticking metronome in the background annoyingly grates, but as Berrow reaches his final verse, the song pays off, painting a nuanced and visceral picture of an adult life removed from its past.
“I swear, I’d rip out the tongue of each boy that you kissed, martyr myself in the hope that there’s something you’ve missed, but six years later, we can sit round the table, make small talk with no sparks and call ourselves adults at last.”
So many artists rely on their youth and oft-projected naivety to form a connection and justify their feelings. Here, we’re told a story that bundles similar emotions together, but concludes with a numbing sense of maturity and resignation. While everyone is guaranteed to take different things from these songs, this is a blunt reminder of change.
“Another Friday Night at the Chloro Party” (I’m not entirely sure what a chloro party is either, but don’t Google it while you’re at work) begins by telling the story of a woman’s wedding, and gradually moves through her life’s moments of celebration towards that inevitable conclusion we all share. There are a few dark undertones, but the bright guitars chime out and make it without a doubt the warmest track present. It’s in this melancholic afterglow that Berrow, for all intents and purposes, concludes the EP, forming a loose arc of narratives around growing up and getting older.
Despite the conviction of the love interest in “Adults” (‘convinced yr future was uni, and uni meant out’) and the ‘plans for life’, part of a ‘future scripted out’ by the woman in “Chloro Party”, it would be presumptuous to suppose any the characters overlap in these tales. It would be equally presumptuous to suppose that Berrow even features in them himself, especially given that numerous songs on Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything were penned about the lives of others (“200x“, “(Don’t) Show Us Your Fangs“). This is ultimately irrelevant though, as the emotional sentiment expressed is as convincing as ever, feeling both effortless and devastatingly honest – immersing us in someone else’s life, fictional or otherwise, that would have gone unnoticed.
Yr Friends has developed rapidly over a short time. Following a distinctly lo-fi debut, Berrow then put together a refined, pleasant, and aching second release. Which brings us to his third EP, Yr Friends Am Shit At Poetry - which is a leap ahead (and side-ways) of its predecessor. Berrow’s cover of “Third Planet” by Modest Mouse closes the EP nicely, despite feeling tacked on, and it begs the question – would three songs be too short for an EP? Not necessarily, and regardless of Isaac Brock’s song-writing ability, Berrow’s original material is much more alluring here.
Alluring enough to draw you in and not only make you think, but make you feel.