On their debut album as Quiet Friend, the New York duo of Nick Zanca and Steven Rogers prove to be remarkable synthesists. Their interviews and press materials are full of an ambitious laundry list of reference points and influences. Ranging from minimalist ambient composers to lush 90s R&B to viscous sophisti-pop like Prefab Sprout and the Blue Nile to nocturnal dubstep, they favor from distinctive voices with a knack for portraying melancholia in widescreen, finding high drama in simple gestures.
But there's plenty of people with extremely good taste who make boring art, so its a comfort that Quiet Friend have songs like "Playgrounds" to back it up. Around jittery drum programming and an insistently airy synth patch that's sorta pan-pipe adjacent, Zanca sings of trying to retain the open-heartedness and blind self-assuredness of childhood as you grow into the anxieties of the world around you. Like most of the record's best moments—as I wrote yesterday—Zanca's unflagging delivery lends to the feeling that this a refraction of the history of easy listening music, sorta Pure Moods pop complicated by the fact that its ultimately a song about the disappointment of adulthood.
That disjunct is highlighted even more by the track's video—directed by Hayden Hoyl—which is the strangely affecting story of a woman and her troupe of dog dancers, striving slowly to regain the emotional highs their former glories as champion performers. The arc is slow, but there's a feeling of both sadness and triumph that comes at the end, a heartwarming counterpoint to the track. And also there are dancing dogs, which is always good. Zanca says, via email, that the emotional disjunct was at least a little by design.
"I consider “Playgrounds” to be the album’s spiritual centerpiece—informed by anxiety, intimacy and the struggle to maintain self-confidence and enthusiasm," He wrote "It’s about walking into the responsibilities of early adulthood still feeling like a child. Though it was an obvious choice as a single, we struggled for a while to find the right visual language to accompany it. Rather than taking the literal approach, our friend and collaborator Hayden Hoyl ultimately told a story antithetical to the song’s lyrics—one of unbridled confidence and trust."
For more on the ways that Quiet Friend upends the traditions of easy listening music, read this month's entry in Noisey's experimental column Free Radicals.
Colin Joyce is an editor for Noisey and is on Twitter.