The F16s take a dig at reinventing themselves with snazzy new EP ‘WKND FRNDS’.
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The F16s aren’t the conventional Indian indie band. Formed in the Indian port-city of Chennai in 2012, with their Bandcamp page describing them as “an Alternative Indie band with a penchant for the weird”, the F16s have steadily developed their eclectic sound(s) across two stellar EPs and one wonderful full-length album, garnering devoted attention not just from a diverse and loving fanbase but also from a slew of reputed publications such as the Rolling Stones India and Platform Magazine. Having styled themselves as the ever-changing ennui-fighting outliers in a cultural scene that tends to pick DJs over independent acts, The F16s have laid claim to a definitive niche for themselves. WKND FRNDS, their recently released EP, however pushes at earlier boundaries and makes a solid case for the band’s creative dexterity and expertise.
“Moonchild”, a single from their debut album Triggerpunkte (2016), amassed one million hits on Spotify, making it to the US Viral 50 list. The streaming platform puts their monthly listeners from Los Angeles and Bangalore combined at 7,506. And just three weeks ago, WKND FRNDS (2019) clinched the third spot on Apple Music’s Alternative Music chart. But it’s not just the numbers that speak for The F16s —it’s the music itself. Data and stats aside, the ever-growing popularity of this Indian indie band stems from two things: constant experimentation and a sense of self-confidence that has continually helped them navigate the amorphous landscapes of the ‘bold’ and the ‘new’.
WKND FRNDS, released on 31st May 2019 by record label House Arrest, marks yet another shift in the band’s sonic and artistic evolution, most obviously marked by the album cover. Whereas the covers for Kaleidoscope (2013) and Triggerpunkte (2016) were decidedly monochromatic, WKND FRNDS is awash with an array of striking and vibrant colours. The flamboyant proliferates the EP, as does the dull, the rebellious, the seductive and the upbeat. Each of the tracks fit right into the nebulous and stirring mosaic that is WKND FRNDS, allowing the record to resist strict categorization while also subverting a range of expectations.
Listen: WKND FRNDS – The F16s
“My Baby’s Beak” is the slurring and hazy intro to WKND FRNDS. Josh Fernandez’s hypnotic/ gruff vocals recede just as the drums surge in and the near choric rendition of “So hold me darlin’ / Don’t you like me anymore?” kicks the song into full, jazzy swing. Alternating between a low-pitched roboticism and a breezy falsetto, Fernandez carries “My Baby’s Beak” expertly over layered instrumentation and soft harmonization merging in the background. A wistful guitar solo builds into the echoing synth and the groovy drumbeat as the track rushes into a pleasing blend of voice, instrument and reverb, allowing each to dissolve into the other just as “My Baby’s Beak” comes to end on the fading guitar.
Watch: “My Baby’s Beak” – The F16s
“Boudoir”, the EP’s second track, starts contemplative and spacey with just the pensive guitar to cue the listener in at first. A delectably starry synth follows next, almost circular in pitch before the easy drumming sets in, marking the song’s swaggering tone. Fernandez’s low mix falsetto mirrors the intimacy of the song’s title (“When you tucked me in that bed / And you kissed me on the head,”) and suggests a fleeting comparison with Dave Bayley’s (Glass Animals) vocals on “Agnes”. At the 1:30 mark, the track takes a deep dive into styles reminiscent of dream-pop and lo-fi, bringing to mind the vocal maneuvers of Dreamer Boy’s “Orange Girl” and Goth Babe’s “Swimming”.
“Boudoir” takes its time, meandering through the lazy sound of its sleepy drums, pausing over pitch-distorted vocals characteristic of electronic and trap music before paying homage to its alternative roots with a rousing dalliance with the electric guitar. With plenty of cymbal crashing and reverb to match, there is a peculiar richness to the chaotic sound that brings Boudoir to a close. “Boudoir” is as much a funky little bop that screams sci-fi technicolour dream as it is a sonic tripping through the sounds of shoegaze, electro-dance and alternative rock, testifying to the versatility of its rather impressive creators.
“Amber” is equal parts 80s pop nostalgia and smooth run reggae, coupling Harshan Radhakrishnan’s fuzzy, dreamlike synth with an impossibly catchy melody. Throwing up seductively poignant lyrics like “Find me in my dreams, call me in my sleep,” and “My heart is heavier than yours,” “Amber” feels like something straight out of Black Mirror’s San Junipero episode. Fernandez’s crooning in the chorus has the listener nodding along as Radhakrishnan’s synth weaves in and out of the track.
The rushing reverb of “Help me lose my mind / I do it all the time” fatefully coincides with a moment where the instruments pause, making this an oddly pivotal turn in “Amber”. The tape rewind and suctioned laugh mark a fantastic switch at 2:12, presenting a brief interlude of quiet swaying beats endemic to shoegaze and dreampop. Electric guitar spins back into the track and Fernandez’s reflective vocals usher “Amber” out into a fusion of sounds.
Watch: “Amber” – The F16s
The last and titular song of the record, “WKND FRNDS”, is arguably also it’s very best. Summer-y xylophonic charm is drawn over a ridiculously catchy melody. Fernandez’s scratchy vocals make for a delicious contrast with the upbeat backtrack, sounding off against the glorious chordwork of the guitar and the snappy drumming. The pre-chorus is especially memorable, a sonic wave that pulls in layer after layer, letting the lovely vocalization dissolve into the trumpets, giving “WKND FRNDS” a rich moment of orchestral artistry.
The swimmingly good guitar solo kicks us into the bridge where Fernandez digs into softer and higher notes and “WKND FRNDS” transforms into a glazed fusion of both its pop and indie impulses. There’s some wicked crooning over the you in “Why don’t you stay?” and the clapping beat quickens the track’s pace just before it plummets into delightfully spinning synth-work that overwhelms guitar and drum both. Characteristic of a rock anthem’s buildup, the guitar surges back in as the drumming rises to a crescendo before “WKND FRNDS” falls into a rousing cheer with only faint, floating guitar chords to sound its ending.
Thrilling from start to finish, WKND FRNDS bends through its indie and alternative roots, getting its songs dirty with the styles of shoegaze and electronic music, dipping into the funk and psychedelic influences of acts like Tame Impala and Glass Animals with arresting finesse. Deftly displaying The F16s’ remarkable ability to both remake and retain their sound(s), their new EP not only bolsters their stellar reputation as an increasingly impressive band but firmly places WKND FRNDS in the larger cultural landscape of postmodern experimentation as an incredible project testifying to the new forces shaping the creation and production of music in India and the world today.
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