The 2008 debut by Friendly Fires was a straight dance-punk record, though that album's opener, "Jump in the Pool," contained some of the summery, orchestral elements the band has developed for Pala.
Named after the exotic island at the center of an Aldous Huxley novel, the new record trades rubbery, post-punk flavor for something with a bit more disco tang. The title track is a manifesto of sorts. It's tinkling and tropical—moody resort music. But Friendly Fires aren't exploring jungle ruins; they're poolside, looking at the jungle tree line as the sun sets. When Ed Macfarlane sings, "Take me back in the darkness," on "Show Me Lights," he's not talking about the Heart of Darkness.
Opener "Live Those Days Tonight" is pure motivational dance-floor catnip. There's a slightly goth undertone; the song's groove is set against an ethereal soundscape that recalls something like Enigma's "Sadeness (Part I)." "Hurting," a definite standout, uses purposefully cheesy '80s synth blurps to maximum effect and somehow manages to sound both contemporary and cheekily passé.
One gets the sense that Friendly Fires are indie-rock chameleons, chasing trends to shape their sound. Friendly Fires, upon review, owes a lot to bands like The Faint and The Rapture; now Pala comes along channeling Caribou or Delorean at different points (and even—jarringly—Vampire Weekend, on "Pull Me Back to Earth").
But, really, this new sound flatters them. Pala overflows with pure utopian pleasure. It's a perfect summer record.