Friko‘s debut is brimming with verve and spirit – I love Where we’ve been, and I can’t wait to see Where they go from here

Release date: February 16, 2024 | ATO Records | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube | Bandcamp

There are few things more exciting in music, than when a young, upcoming band, having made waves with their live performances, come to release their debut album. It’s a watershed moment, the time where intentions and dreams become cemented into reality. And Friko’s debut album Where we’ve been, Where we go from here is one that has had those in the know buzzing with anticipation.

The Chicago duo, comprised of Niko Kapetan on guitar and vocals, and Bailey Minzenberger on drums, are a forest fire. It’s something I’ve always found counter-intuitive, that duos and trios in rock tend to have the most locked in and powerful live performances. I’m thinking of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Muse, The Black Keys… these bands all have so much going on with their music. Maybe there’s something to the relationships being closer and the creative feedback loop being tighter in a smaller roster, but I can’t help but make these comparisons when I hear Friko because there’s so many ideas stuffed into every song, and it’s all so tight.

Those listed bands also all have sublime drummers, and Friko is no exception. The drums are absolutely the backbone of their sound, and have the quality to vault this band into stardom. Minzenberger lists meWithoutYou as a big influence, and I can see where this comes from – there’s this post-hardcore sense of freedom and creativity, whilst laying down an iron-set foundation and a head nodding pace. It’s important too that the backbone is strong, because Kapetan has a creative fire that shines most when it burns at the edges of control.

Niko lists Mitski as an influence, specifically her “Class of 2023” performance, and I don’t lightly say this – whatever it is that makes that performance so spellbinding, he has it too. It’s no surprise these guys are getting so popular, when the frontman has such personality and creativity. It’s something you can just sense in the live performances, and when someone has this level of charisma, it’s impossible to look away.

Friko has a world of potential in their hands, considering the raw talent, the strong connection between the duo, and how young and new they are. It seems like they understand this too, with Where we’ve been, Where we go from here, having a wide variety of sounds under the indie umbrella. These span from post-punk garage gig fare, to more artistic and danceable indie rock, to lullaby-like ballads, evoking the earlier work of Elliott Smith. I really do appreciate that they tried a lot of different styles, however their strengths clearly lie on the more punk and garage side, where the instrumental freedom, insanely locked in rhythmic side of things, and Kapetan’s flair for the dramatic shine through.

Take one of the first released singles for the album, “Crimson to Chrome”. This feels like it was born straight from the live performance. There’s so much variety and texture to the rhythmic section, with liberal use of cut-outs and a fill-heavy style. This style of drumming is so alive and energetic, and Minzenberger always emphasizing the beats where the rest of the band is playing makes you feel like you’re right there in the band room with them, getting down and sweaty. They have a real late-noughties energy to their sound, and it reminds me a lot of some of the more creative rock bands of this era, such as British India and Kings of Leon. My head’s banging, the chorus is catchy, it’s honestly just really fun to listen to and I’d love to see it live.

“Crashing Through” is another great example of a strong garage rock track. Starting with a fuzz laden guitar intro reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr., both the drums and the playful vocal performance are sparked with passion. Look I know someone under 30 saying they feel young again when they hear this is going to make a lot of you cringe, but I really mean it, when I hear tracks like this I feel like I’m 18 again stumbling into some shed in the middle of nowhere to share sweat with strangers under a chest rattling speaker that probably shouldn’t be hanging from that. What I mean to say is their energy is infectious, and their charisma is undeniable. The track is packed with cut-outs, throwaway musical ideas, screams and shouts from Kapetan; this is listener-first music meant to entertain and delight, and the band themselves says as much: ‘I want our music to pick people up, so that they can actually go out and do something with whatever they’re feeling.

To this point, I thought it a little odd that in the 9 tracks of Where we’ve been, Where we go from here, there are three very soft ballads. “For Ella” is the strongest of those in my opinion, with the breathy vocals of Kapetan tracing the delicate piano melody note-for-note. It’s simple to the point of being almost a little whimsical, however the production and string section, as well as the backing vocals, do make this an endearing track throughout. It’s definitely not bad, it shows the versatility of Kapetan especially, and a gentler side of his charming personality, however I don’t believe this is where Friko stands out and I was surprised to find so much of this style on the album. I appreciated “For Ella” though, lyrically it feels personal and touching, and it has a good place on the album between some of the more energetic tracks, that being said, the back half of the album does feel a little weaker for having several ballads.

Closely following “For Ella” was hands-down my favourite track of the album, “Chemical”. The four-on-the-floor drums kick things off at a frenetic pace, leading to this Phoenix-esque chorus where the rhythm goes completely onto the offbeat in the coolest way. It subverts expectations like good comedy, and I find myself grinning ear to ear every time I hear it. This track is so unique, and so damn interesting, just packed with little rhythmic treats and knick-knacks wall to wall. I really do hope as the band grows and matures they lean even harder into this side of their sound and the creativity specifically, because this is a stellar track.

Friko are a talented, exciting, and immensely likeable band. As a debut, Where we’ve been, Where we go from here does well to showcase what they have to offer, and while I would have preferred less of the softer side of the band, the commitment to creative freedom bodes well, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this side of Kapetan’s artistic expression matures and refines. If they keep putting out tracks like “Crimson to Chrome” and “Chemical” they’ve got a bright future ahead of them. I sure won’t be missing out if they tour my city, and I hope if they’re touring near you, you can get yourself to a show because this duo have got something special.

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