Family And Friends Explore Themes of Disillusionment on 'Felix Culpa'

Photo: Chelsea Kornse / Courtesy of All Eyes Media

Folk rockers Family and Friends focus on the tribulations related to the accession into adulthood on Felix Culpa.

Felix Culpa
Family And Friends

All Eyes Media

8 June 2018


"Well this shit ain't getting any easier" sings Mike MacDonald, lead singer for the Athens-based Family And Friends. His sentiment expresses the tone for their debut full-length album Felix Culpa. Family and Friends found success with their 2015 EP XOXO while building a hyped reputation from their exhilarating live shows. Felix Culpa takes the band in a new lyrical direction as the album documents the loss of idealism and the heavy burden associated with disillusionment. At times the album's sense of ennui becomes too heavy but rich instrumentation, and impassioned vocal performances remedy the weaknesses.

Several of Family and Friends' tracks specifically examine the disintegration of idealism and the evolution of cynicism. "Peaches" contextualizes a romantic estrangement and its influence on the jaded spirit. The lyrics are self-aware and fully examine the realization that feelings of distrust and pessimism only increase as you "grow up, trade age for wisdom / replace love with cynicism." The track resembles an inner dialogue; championing oneself to abandon romantic dysfunction while trying to forget the solace correlated with intimacy.

Themes of disillusionment dominant Felix Culpa. "PRSM" exhibits a rational yet fatigued persona with the lyrics "you say we're wasting away our youth / I say we could all use a little time." The following track "Sunsara" verges on nihilism with the lyrics "I need a reason to believe I did everything for nothing." In "Winding Roads", standpoints are informed by experience when MacDonald laments "trade conviction for youth". Eventually, the misanthropy becomes tiring as Family and Friends overplay the theme. It's easier to dismiss the acrimony rather than engage it since the origin is a mere quarter-life crisis.

"Peaches" reaches its peak as the vocals come together then crossover to sing "Lovesick, Lovechild, Lovesick, Lovechild, Don't you know you're always on my mind? (Fight the feeling, Fight the feeling, Fight the feeling, Fight the feeling)." The parenthetical lyrics quietly build underneath the primary lines eventually harmonizing and forming intentional aural chaos. The verse sounds congruous to a fugue by both musical and psychological definitions. Layered vocals create a counterpoint interwoven by backup singers taking over the primary line much as a fugue. In psychiatry, loss of self-identity and emotional breakdowns define a fugue. That is exactly the lyrical sentiment "Peaches" exhibits and affirmed by the rest of the album. Family and Friends create a deeply layered and sophisticated track that branches far outside the confines of vanilla rock 'n' roll.

Perpetuity marks the journey to adulthood and Felix Culpa. The opening track, "Ouroboros", is the term for the depiction of a serpent or dragon eating its own tail, symbolizing an infinite cycle. A sense of cyclically is emphasized by the first lyric "so we're back to where we started...Maybe we'll get it right this time." The symbolic circle is revisited on the album's final track "Houndstooth" as MacDonald sings "running in circles, chasing our tails". Clearly, Family and Friends see Felix Culpa as a type of musical ouroboros considering the album's feeling of revolving of ennui.

So here we are as full-fledged adults, and what exactly are we searching for? Family and Friends don't provide an answer; rather they use bewilderment to create a commonality between the listener and band. In "Peaches" MacDonald sings "searching, never knowing" while "Houndstooth" suggests "you can spend your whole life searching for something you may never find". By bookending existentialism, Family and Friends remind of the album's title, Felix Culpa, is a reference to both a happy mistake and original sin. For a thorough deconstruction of the phrase felix culpa in relation to the single "Winding Road" see Jedd Beaudoin's PopMatters' interview with the band. When considering the album in its entirety, the title and band focus on life's meaning. After all, the creation of humanity might be a happy mistake regardless of the presence, or more likely the absence of a higher power and the ancestral line to original sin.

As expected from a band's first release, Family and Friends are still searching for their own musical identity. Felix Culpa's primary downfall is the inability to find any type of musical cohesion across the album. "Sunsara" echoes a jam-band's masturbatory musical indulgence while the falsetto in "So Within//So Without" is a cringe-worthy facsimile of Bon Iver. "PRSM" wants to channel Santana and "Winding Roads" is textbook folk music even mentioning "like a rolling stone" in case Bob Dylan's influence wasn't evident. The band's musicality is powerful, so it will just take some time to find their unique musical style.

Yet moments of musical uniqueness manifest as exemplified by "Double Vision". MacDonald's guitar creates an eerie energy underscored by Emily Braden's crystalline background vocals. Meanwhile, the rest of the band is quietly building momentum. Family and Friends use of two drummers, Ryan Houchens and Alejandro Rios, is evident here. One set of percussion illuminates David "Tuna" Fortuna's bass while the other adds subtle nuance. JP McKenzie's guitar folds in creating a textured sound.

Family and Friends focus on the tribulations related to the accession into adulthood. Emotional pain puts romance under erasure throughout Felix Culpa as the band struggles to find both personal and musical identity. However, Family and Friends will gain popularity, and this is certainly a band to pay attention to and an album to check-out.

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