Album Review: Dan Friel – Life

Brooklyn-based American outsider house musician Dan Friel has been in the music-making game for quite some time; he self-released his first EP almost fifteen years ago. However, being a seasoned veteran in the music business does not automatically make him a strong musician. As seen in Friel’s latest LP Life, there is much work for the young musician to do before he becomes a big name in the house community.

Life is an incredibly distinct album from those of other artists. Its lo-fi, rough sound is extremely indicative of the genre of outsider house. It also is very consistent with Friel’s previous work, which shows true a commitment and desire to finesse his style. While the album stays true to Friel, it lacks growth; many of the tracks on Life sound like they belong on his 2008 EP. When listening to the majority of the record, it seems as though Friel has not yet enhanced his musical style.

While the album is vastly different from many other electronica albums of 2015, each individual song is nothing to rave about, with songs sounding almost identical to even an active listener. Melodies become lost when played over a fluttering, staticky bassline, which is the case for more than half the album; it is almost as though each component of the song is desperately vying for the listener’s attention. It is difficult to differentiate between songs, which can be looked at as either a positive or negative aspect, depending on your desire as a listener.

However, the songs on Life that do stand out generally stand out for good reason. Arguably one of the best songs on the album is ‘Theme’, which is the most simplistic. It is stripped of all the unnecessary noise—which is, admittedly, a distinct characteristic of the genre—and allows for a listener to hear what Friel was trying to create. ‘Bender’ is another strong song, which uses many of the things found distracting in the other songs to its advantage; the static-esque bass is a focal point of the song, yet makes room for the melody and other sounds. However, these songs are two of the shortest on the album, less than three and a half minutes combined; this may say something about Friel’s tendency to overwork the longer songs (see both part one and part two of ‘Life’,) while neglecting—for the better—the shorter, less “important” songs.

“Friel’s has a tendency to overwork the longer songs while neglecting the shorter ones”

Friel’s penchant for overloading his songs creates tracks that sound sloppy and hasty, and his overthought comes across as a contradictory lack thereof. However, the album is put together in quite a pleasing manner. Starting with “Lullaby (for Wolf),” another simple, minute-long track, introduces the album in an eerie and interesting way. While the songs are quite un-extraordinary as the record continues, the intriguing yet almost assaulting sound of “Sleep Deprivation” is a perfect song for the middle of the record; it breaks up the monotony of the three previous tracks. Next comes the indistinct sounds of ‘Life (Pt. 1)’ and ‘Life (Pt. 2)’, which bookend the simpler ‘Bender’ and ‘Theme’. This break in the album works to Friel’s benefit as well as a much-needed breather for the listener. “Life (Pt. 2)” also works well as the final song, but only in the last 45 seconds.

Friel’s Life is quite a different album which certainly embodies its niche genre’s characteristics. However, it seems unrefined for reasons beyond the lo-fi sounds of outsider house, and is an album that is pleasant for only a very specific audience. With more time and finessing, however, Friel can grow into a musician than any electronica fan would appreciate.

Aubrey Rieder

Aubrey is currently listening to “Gum” by Moose Blood

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Co-Editor of the Music Section at University of Nottingham's IMPACT Magazine.

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