Coming off the back of two game-changing releases in 2017’s The Outsiders and this year’s Aphelion EPs, there is a palpable level of excitement around “lo-fi” house pioneer, Ross from Friend’s (aka Felix Clary Weatherall) debut album. Let’s get this out of the way very early on. Yes, he releases records under a hilarious name (it is genuinely still funny. Even Googling it makes me chuckle), and in publicity photos, he looks a little like my Auntie Kath (who is a lovely woman by the way). However, make no mistake, Weatherall is making some of the most vibrant, dynamic and exciting new electronic music around and Family Portrait delivers on every level.
The lo-fi house elements that brought him so much early attention are still present but, on Family Portrait, he has admirably expanded his musical palette to include fidgety IDM, soothing ambient sounds, and tech-house percussion. Weatherall seems committed to a holistic method of working that highlights his strengths. He meticulously layers beats, sounds, and ideas that, on their own, shouldn’t work but in the context of his work compliment each other beautifully.
“Happy Birthday Nick” kicks things off like a 1980s buddy cop movie that gradually warps into a futuristic mix of bleeps and glitches. The excellent “Thank God I’m a Lizard” perfectly demonstrates what he brings to the dancefloor. As the song title is repeated, seemingly by a malevolent creature from a B-movie horror film, Weatherall pulls together a measured house tune from propulsive, determined beats, distant sax, and a chittering synth line like two twittering doves. The track encapsulates everything that is so riveting about his approach. The playful mix of humor, the meticulous attention to detail and the manipulation of sounds to create incessant, lasting hooks.
“Wear Me Down” continues in the same vein as Weatherall flies glitchy IDM sounds over crackling beats, all held together by soaring, looped vocal samples. Featuring reverb-soaked drums and woozy, atmospheric synths, “The Knife” feels like the forgotten soundtrack to a cult 1980s computer game. Whilst clearly his style, Weatherall cleverly interlaces a guiding vocal sample to provoke a more affecting reaction. The swaggering lo-fi house of “Project Cybersyn” harks back to his early work, built, as it is, around a muted, strangely familiar synth riff that courts your eardrums like an old flame. Before things become too comfortable, a rush of wildly weaving saxophone cuts through with glorious clarity.
The altogether pacier “Pale Blue Dot” opens with a flurry of pads offset by calming snippets of sound that seem to ape the gentle undulation of birdsong. Once again, it is those squelchy, high pitch synth lines that ricochet into the distance that truly stick. Weatherall seems to have an endless supply of these synth hooks in his arsenal that he deploys flawlessly throughout the album. Synth lines that gently curl their way around your subconscious suddenly coming into sharp focus at various points during your day.
“Back Into Space” opens with some tongue in cheek sexiness as Weatherall pitches his vocals to breathlessly intone “Oh Yeah / I love the way you move” before transforming into an ambient, sci-fi piece with a TV flicking between channels as it gently drifts through the cosmos. On the twitchy house meets 1090s IDM of “Parallel Sequence” Weatherall whips up an anxious sense of momentum as if he is laying the musical tracks as the song is in hurtles down the railroad. It shows a mature artist trusting his instincts but never losing sight of the importance of the song.
That is further evidenced on “R.A.T.S” with layers of running hi-hat, crisp driving percussion and cool synths bridged by moans of spiritual adoration as if lost in ancient, Eastern cities. So much so that you can imagine the Adhan emanating from towering minarets. The opening track from Aphelion, “Don’t Wake Dad” is a welcome inclusion to the second half of the album. It’s mix of sunny euphoria and soft bluesy rock is counterbalanced by closer, “The Beginning”, which mixes devotional chanting with echoing percussion, distorted vocals and chiming glockenspiel.
For those who have been a keen follower of Weatherall’s output to date, Family Portrait is everything you could want and more. It is a further step up from his Aphelion EP but with plenty to appeal to those who fell in love with the lo-fi elements of his early work. It’s an album you can easily disappear into from one of electronic music’s most thrilling new talents.