Review Summary: While Thomas may not have made her strongest or most consistent work with These Friends of Mine, her earnest and passionate performances make up for a good deal of its inadequacies.
There's something about Rosie Thomas
that makes her seem like the nicest girl in the world. Maybe it's her charming personality, her simple indie-folk tunes or her soft, airy voice. Or perhaps it's her keen sense of humour and refusal to take herself too seriously, both of which were put on display earlier last year in an April Fool's prank that caused Pitchfork Media to mistakenly print that Thomas was having a baby with Sufjan Stevens
(Thomas also routinely performs as a comedian). Whatever it is, These Friends of Mine
, Thomas' fourth album to date benefits from it considerably.
After a very structured experience recording her third album If Songs Could Be Held
, Thomas decided to take a more spontaneous to her approach songwriting, recording as things came to her with the assistance of friends Denison Witmer
and Sufjan Stevens
. Resultantly, the album has a very laid-back and natural feel with appropriately sparse instrumentation. Thomas' voice floats elegantly above acoustic guitars, piano, strings and occasional percussion accompanied by male harmonies courtesy of Witmer and Stevens. The natural arrangements support Thomas' songwriting to wonderful effect, making it feel all the more sincere in spite of its simplicity. Sure, a song like "Much Farther To Go", featuring all of the above elements, might be overly simplistic or cliché both lyrically and in its chord progressions, but Thomas' personality and sincerity (not to mention her voice) are more than enough to overcome such hitches.
These Friends of Mine
is, however, not without its shortcomings. Thomas' simple and occasionally derivative songwriting becomes insipid on a number of tracks. Additionally, the production is a confusing affair with some songs displaying Thomas' voice as fragile and raw while others feature decidedly heavy-handed studio treatment (particularly in opener "If This City Never Sleeps"). It becomes more puzzling when such cuts are set next to the more raw pieces that go so far as to include laughing and joking between Thomas, Stevens and Witmer, presumably to accentuate the 'homemade' feel. Overall, it makes These Friends of Mine
feel like more of a mixed bag than anything else, with both songwriting and production periodically missing the mark. Thankfully, there are plenty of instances such as the aforementioned "Much Farther To Go", the beautifully spare "Kite Song", Thomas' pleasant treatment of R.E.M.'s "The One I Love" and the vocally-rich title track/closer.
While Thomas may not have made her strongest or most consistent work with These Friends of Mine
, her earnest and passionate performances make up for a good deal of its inadequacies and the album is short enough that what doesn't appeal can easily be forgotten or ignored. As is perhaps also apparent with Thomas' earlier material, her songs suffer the most when they are given too much more than the bare minimum, particularly in production and instrumentation; often what may be intended to augment Thomas' songs simply becomes a clunky obstacle to her connection with the listener. Difficulties aside, These Friends of Mine
will surely win over the right sort of listener with its quiet sincerity and failing that, it's hard to get too upset with the nicest girl in the world.
Thomas' sincere songwriting is difficult to dislike
Great guest performances from Sufjan Stevens and Denison Witmer
Some cliché lyrics and chord progressions
A bit inconsistent
Why Waste More Time"
Much Farther To Go
Final Rating: 3/5