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Album Review: Real Friends – ‘Composure’

You know the phrase, “It’s about to get real,” right? Well, Real Friends just released a brand-new record. For real. This is real life.

Friday, July 13th, the Chicago pop punkers released their third record, Composure, via Fearless Records. The joke’s on you if you think Composure is anything but gimmicky though. The record has quite the tumultuous backstory, with lead singer Dan Lambton’s anxiety, depression and recent bi-polar diagnosis. He even took a break from the band in its entirety, after manic episodes, panic attacks and breakdowns. The band had hit a low, and the future was iffy.

One thing’s for certain — Dan has real friends. Both his bandmates and fans encouraged him to seek help and work on himself. The band would take a backseat. After focusing on his mental health, Dan is finally in a stable place, and friends and fans are overjoyed to have new music to celebrate the return of Real Friends.

Composure opens up with “Me First,” a track that catches up fans with the current state of Real Friends. Why don’t you put me first for once, and spare me the bad news? We might need to slow down, because I’m not going anywhere.

In some ways, it could be a thank-you-note to the fans for sticking through the silence, and temporary, unpublicized hiatus. Good news is, despite the hardships, with this release, it’s clear the band is not going anywhere. In fact, this first track might just land them in first place. I foresee alternative radio airwaves for this tune.

The second track, “Stand Steady” gives listeners a bit more of a behind-the-scenes view into Dan’s journey. Can I shoulder the burden? Can I stomach the past? Watch me try to stand steady, like a flame in the pouring rain.  Looking back at my youth, it’s good that I grow. Watch me try to stand steady, like a bird in a hurricane.

“From the Outside” gives way for a possible intervention; a breaking point. I fill my glass to take the edge off. The choice is mine. From the outside, I seem fine. On the inside, I’m still sick. The pill’s a temporary fix. Redefine rock bottom with these empty orange bottles. Never felt so paralyzed before.

You hear more of that signature Real Friends honest lyricism, and punchy guitar riffs on “Smiling on the Surface.” The song is a classic tale of ‘fake it until you make it.’ So I’ll keep on smiling on the surface. Hiding my nerves behind the curtain.

This record certainly shows a growth, both as humans, and musicians. The previously pop-punk-emo outfit’s new release has a lean towards the pop-rock genre. Produced by Mike Green (All Time Low, Set Your Goals), mixed and mastered by Kris Krummet ( Sleeping with Sirens, Dance Gavin Dance, Knuckle Puck, Early November), and additional engineering by Will McCoy and Colin Schwanke (Neck Deep, 5 Seconds of Summer, Pierce the Veil), Real Friends will most definitely gain more pals with their polished, upbeat sounds.

 The title’s track, “Composure” reveals a secret of self-doubt, in the midst of dreams coming true. Life unfolding like the plot of a movie. Not the version that everyone sees. My dreams were laid out in front of me. I’ve never told anyone. But the truth is I see the shadow hanging over me.

Composure isn’t about having everything together, neatly wrapped in a box, topped with a bow. Composure isn’t perfection — it’s working through the issues. Composure doesn’t necessarily mean being a fearless figure in the face of danger. It’s owning up to insecurities, pushing through, and being your true self. All of which, this record rings true.

The final track, “Take a Hint” urges listeners to see the other side. We’ll chalk it up to blind luck, metaphors, or doubt. After years of searching it’s almost working out. If you don’t like the format you set the music to, you can change the rhythm you choose to feel it through.

Just as the group encourages changing formats, shifting gears, and re-evaluating situations, Real Friends has seen a bit of a revitalization. A rebirth, if you will. Of course, the pop-punk knobby knees, pizza and tie-dye-shirt-loving-genes remain intact, Composure introduces us to a more grown-up version of Real Friends.

Thankfully, today’s culture is becoming more accepting of hearing depression and anxiety stories, realizing and empowering them as relevant struggles. Its records like this, and bands like Real Friends that won’t sugarcoat things. Even if your music, your job, or your life is seemingly all rock ‘n’ roll, there are always real problems. Real problems, issues, and struggles that can eat you apart. If you let them. Don’t forget: there are also real friends who’ve got your back. If you let them.

I’d say it’s time you turn towards your real friends who’ve been there through the thick and thin. And if you haven’t met Real Friends yet, this record is a great introduction to this tight-knit group of five pals who will continue to be there for you, year after year. Guaranteed. If you let them.

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Sarah Spohn

Sarah's a little bit of a rock 'n' roll rebel, almost always at a concert. She loves to soak up the scene, immersed in the music journalism world, still buys CDs and rents music documentaries from the library. Just don't call her a hipster. She's never been that stylish.

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