It’s impossible to discuss Friendzone’s collection of instrumentals in a vacuum. In this genre, the conversation usually begins with Clams Casino, the rags-to-riches story of a kid making beats in the attic of his mom’s house. Clams started giving beats to Lil B and “I’m God” came out of nowhere to steal the show on Lil B’s classic Based God. Next, Clams released Instrumentals, twelve instrumental tracks that overnight introduced the music world to a bubbling underground of bedroom “cloud rap” producers, hungry young bucks ripping obscure youtube vocal videos into aiff files that they could sample over hissing hi hats and machine gun snares. Now, Clams Casino is doing solicited remixes for Marina & The Diamonds and Drake, producing a third of ASAP Rocky’s debut, and tweeting to more followers than a medium-sized city. Clams Casino’s Instrumentals didn’t create the genre; however, it did set the bar very high
Friendzone is James Laurence and Dylan Reznick and their Collection 1 represents another generational leap forward. Clams accomplished the soaring, heavenly upper registers of his songs by layering and looping his vocal samples; Friendzone does the same thing by creating battles between competing delicate piano riffs, like in the above song “Chuch.” The punchy hi hats and snares that are the trademarks of “cloud rap” still form the background but they are adorned by artfully arranged key progressions. In case you have doubts that anyone can rap over something like this, take a listen to what Main Attrakionz does with “Perfect Skies,” another instrumental included on Collection 1:
The entire release is guided tour through the depth of techniques Friendzone employs. “!!-Major” is pure sample triggering, with the boys playing the synth samples the same way that they would program a drum loop. “STRESSES” and “Don’t Give Up” showcase the austere beauty of applying basic effects to a chorale-type synthesizer.
Perhaps the most interesting song is “Moments (Part 1),” which is also the release’s closer. It’s a plain piano composition with no drums and no effects aside for a little sustain here and there. It’s something that a moderately talented pianist could reproduce with a good-quality piano. And I think this is where we finally unravel the full lesson that Collection 1 slowly teaches the listener. This isn’t some niche genre made by guys who listened to too much Bone Thugs pounding on their $2000 sample controllers. These are serious musicians and they are pioneering a new type of electronic music. Yes, leaned-out rappers from San Francisco like to rap over their tracks; that’s just a bonus. “Cloud Rap Production” or whatever name you give to it is our generation’s version of ambient house. The musical reference points for the formation of ambient house were Brian Eno and Kraftwerk and Pink Floyd. The musical reference points for the formation of this genre are DJ Screw and Aaliyah and Three 6 Mafia. It’s rooted in the feeling you get in your chest when you hear an angelic time-shifted sample strung over a drum loop cribbed from a song that may have had the word “trap” in the title (and if that doesn’t make sense to you, you probably should look elsewhere). Using techniques and electronics originally designed to showcase a rapper’s talents, the Instrumental Producers are now the center of the show.
Friendzone’s Collection 1 is now available as a free download at friendzone.tumblr.com.