Album review: Superfruit - Future friends

Album review: Superfruit - Future friends | Random J Pop

Future friends is what I hoped Pentatonix would reach at some point. Singing original pop songs with full musical backdrops and arrangements. The transition from covers to original songs could have been a mess, but Scott, Mitch and RCA records hit a sweet spot here and manage to make it work. Even if the package is as safe as bubble wrap and as linear as an Amazon basics product.
Much of this album's charm is attributed to Superfruit starting life as Scott Hoying and Mitch Grassi's vlog prior. The ground work for this album was laid over a course of years of Scott and Mitch divulging into their friendship, their lives, life as two-parts of Pentatonix and fans of music. Those with no knowledge of this can just appreciate Future friends for what it is, a decent pop record. Fans of Superfruit can see this very much as the soundtrack to Scott and Mitch's vlog series.

Future friends isn't out here trying to be anything but a straight (bent?) pop record. At a time when lots of pop acts are trying to downplay pop and get in their own feelings about trying to grow out of it, Superfruit's approach here is kinda admirable. At no point is this album trying to be smarter than it is, anything different than what it is or be seen as this avant-garde left-field piece of work. *Cough* Katy Perry's Witness *Cough*.

Every song on this album has single and / or hit potential. But whilst each song acts well enough to be considered a single and a hit unto itself, when sat within a 16 track album, everything begins to sound the same and meld - which is why I feel this album worked best when it was split apart as Future friends part 1 and part 2. Whilst the combination of the 2 EPs makes sense commercially and sonically they fit together; when they are slapped on one disc / playlist what felt like highlights on a 6 track EP get a little lost in a 16 track LP. A better approach would have been to have taken the strongest songs from the EPs and then recorded additional songs. Because disappointingly, the full album only features one new song. So if you bought the EPs, there's no real incentive to buy the full album unless you just want a physical copy of it. And in a generation of playlists and pick-and-choosing, those who bought the EPs will have put them both in one playlist for a continuous running order anyway.

The best way to describe the topics of the songs is as vignettes into the window of what Scott and Mitch have spoken about in their vlogs, but packaged in a way where the context can be left open enough to be relate-able. So nothing is super specific and everything is glossed. Scott and Mitch are very open with their sexuality and they don't make any attempts to hide it on this album. Most of the songs are a case of the guys singing your typical female pop song and not gender flipping it, which is great in the way of conditioning radio and mainstream listeners to not assuming every male vocal will be singing about being in love with 'her' and how 'she' broke his heart. But I do feel opportunities were missed for these guys to play around a little more with the unique position they now occupy within pop.

Credit where its most certainly due, Scott and Mitch do step up to this mantle on a couple of occasions. "Future friends" is a declaration from a couple in the midst of a breakup, that despite things being bad now, things will reach a point where they can become friends. It's a great take on a break-up song and is an example of a song with a cool lyrical angle which actually isn't 'gay' specific. But fans of the boys will know that this song is about their relationship, which gives it added gravitas. "Sexy ladies" is a song about being the being the gay stand-in boyfriend for a single lady in a club with no ulterior motive other than to allow herself to enjoy herself, free of there being any agenda. It's a nice spin on what you initially think the song will be about going on the title alone. "GUY.exe" has the duo singing about their hopelessness at finding a decent man and wishing that they could create them. Imagine a gay gender-bend of Weird science, and that's pretty much this song. In fact, that would have made a great video. There's nothing new about the song topic. We've heard women do these types of songs before. But it's cool to hear such a song from a gay male perspective, especially when they start talking about wanting a guy to please them in bed, be rough and a gentleman the streets but a freak in the sheets. Then there's "Heartthrob", which is like a PG-12 version of "GUY.exe", using lots of high school and 90s references and a bridge section with a cheerleader call out of how hot 'N Sync are, whilst throwing bottled shade at Chris Kirkpatrick, that one 'N Sync member  that most would pass on. The lyrics are cliched and sound like they were was written by a teenage girl or a fem-gay, but that's the whole point of the song and it works. It plays up to how closeted teenagers can be at school. Having feelings for a guy, but not being able to be open about them. Buying a sports / fashion magazine just to catch the hot centrefold as a poster that you can lip-sync to and stare lovingly at. The song is kinda genius.

Maybe asking for 15 tracks of songs like this is a bit much. Because the fact of the matter is that even when Superfruit aren't singing about these super specific situations, they are still singing a song from the perspective of their lives and something that they've been through; which makes the album honest and true to them. But for me, "Future friends", "Sexy ladies", "GUY.exe" and "Heartthrob" are the songs which stand out the most, because they're elevated from being just regular songs and they feel like a greater showcase of the Superfruit fans already know. There are other great songs on the album, but they'd be equally great in the hands of somebody else.

Scott and Mitch have really good voices. I'd go on record to say they're two of the better male vocalists in pop right now. It's not like there's much competition, with the exception of Adam Lambert. And despite him being dead to the world, I'mma mention him anyway, JC Chasez. Let us not forget who really was THE voice in 'N Sync ya'll. As parts of Pentatonix Scott and Mitch both had particular parts to play vocally. Here, with it just being the two of them, Scott sings low and Mitch sings high. You can hear the Pentatonix flex on certain songs which feature intricate harmonies, but Superfruit never push it enough. It's almost as though Scott and Mitch forgot that that Kirstin, Avi and Kevin aren't there to fill in the parts. I would have liked to have heard Scott and Mitch layer their vocals a heck of a lot more and to deliver more in the way of harmonies and vocal arrangements. There aren't any moments on this album which are a showcase of what Scott and Mitch had pulled off as part of Pentatonix and it's a shame, because it's another thing that should have set them apart from other pop acts. Between the two of them, they aren't able to give the level of vocal arrangement intricacy that say the likes of Justin Timberlake was able to deliver on his own for The 20 / 20 experience; an album where Justin went to fucking town on those vocal arrangements. There was so much room across this album for Scott and Mitch to really pad the songs out with vocals and contribute to the music with their voices, but they don't. So you're left with these pockets of emptiness in places and it feels odd.

The vocal distribution also feels heavily tipped towards Mitch. There are even instances where Scott has minimal presence on songs and you're essentially listen to a Mitch solo ("Heartthrob", "Deny U" and "Keep me coming").  Whenever Scott sings low and Mitch sings high, there's an emptiness in-between where there should have been a mid-range vocal coming from Scott. On instances where high notes and layers are needed, Mitch goes for it and delivers. But Scott doesn't seem to treat his lower or mid notes the same way, which is a shame, because Scott has a great voice and I continually found myself wanting to hear more of it. There are also songs on this album where Scott should have actually been the prominent vocalist instead of Mitch. It's strange.

The production on this album is tight. But it feels as though the songs were handed to Superfruit and they simply wrote to them, as opposed to the songs being crafted around their vocals and their songwriting. The vocals are solid. Not a bad note is hit throughout the 16 tracks. The production could not be any slicker. I just wish there was more of a marriage between the two, whether it was a case of the producers framing the music around Superfruit or Superfruit framing the vocals more around the music. Given the producers that contributed to the project, some songs aren't as hot as they should be. The albums' tail end song "Fantasy" features production from PC music's Danny L Harle and Sophie and also features Amber from f(x) - the song is good, but with these three in the mix, it should have been straight fire. The song structures here are also too formulaic. Every single song has the exact same structure and it never deviates or varies. It's always verse, chorus, verse, chorus into refrain. With the exception of "Heartthrob", there is no song on this album which features a proper bridge, middle-8, a key change, an original song structure or a melody change. Every song is just a slightly different version of what came before, which is what causes the songs to just meld into one another and sound the same. The whole time you're listening to these songs, you'r enjoying them. But you'd be hard pressed to remember the name of the song you just listened to or recite any of its lyrics long after.

Future friends is a good pop album for what it is. But it's not memorable and it feels far too disposable. Scott and Mitch's personalities and their interactions with their fans is what's going to elevate this album and give it longevity, because the music doesn't say enough on its own to speak for itself despite how polished it is. I feel that this album probably would have worked better had every song been given a video. Not only would this have given a greater incentive for those who bought Future friends parts 1 and 2 to buy the complete LP, but it would have tied in the visual aspects of Superfruit, which is how they started out in the first place and also grounded the situation and story of each song. But you could argue that if a song needs a video for it to be memorable, then the song itself isn't strong enough.

Edited on September 21, 2017: Superfruit have confirmed that every song on the album will have a video. [Source: A user by the name of 'ELS' in the comments]

Despite its shortcomings and me literally shitting all over this album, I do like it. Future friends is a decent debut. Scott and Mitch have enough going on for them that I'd check out a second Superfruit album, in a heartbeat. But Future friends doesn't capitalise enough on what makes Scott and Mitch so unique, which is their sexuality and their vocals. I'm not saying that every single song has to have complex of vocal work. But give me some acknowledgement that I'm listening to a song from two guys with great voices who came from an acapella group who knew their shit. I'm not saying that every song needs to be as gay as Big Bird on Sunday and for these guys to be singing about eating ass, Grindr and having the words 'slay', 'yasssss' and 'hunty' in every track. But they have a licence to put a spin on things and take liberties with concepts in a way that no female or straight male pop star can or that they might be too scared to. This is not just because of Scott and Mitch's sexuality, but the boldness of their characters and what they've represented as Superfruit prior to this album. The bottom line is that Scott and Mitch have so much more going for them than Future friends shows and this is the biggest problem I have with it. But all in all, this is a good pop album and a strong debut.

I'll be on standby for album number 2 to peel back a few layers.

RATING: 6.5 / 10

Album highlights:
Bad 4 us
Sexy ladies
■ Hurry up!
■ Deny U
■ Goodbye from lonely ★ J's fave
■ Fantasy