Friendships Often Fade Away (Vagrant)

Audio Learning Center 

Friendships Often Fade Away (Vagrant)

Unlike most neurotic boy outsiders, the members of Audio Learning Center have more to offer than paint-by-numbers angst and chip-on-shoulder bravado. Formed in 1998 as Mandarin, ALC fused the creative forces behind two aquatic early-'90s Portland acts when former Pond bassist and vocalist Christopher Brady and ex-Sprinkler guitarist Steven Birch joined forces with drummer Paul Johnson. Their labors birthed the melancholy baby that is Friendships Often Fade Away, Audio Learning Center's just-released debut.

Lyrically, Friendships swims in a puddle of its own sorrow, sick with loss and crippled by malady. Brady's most effective material recalls mournful tales of souls haunted by tainted love and shattered pasts. "Winter" describes a woman's buried childhood dreams and visions of All the things that she could have become while she kills time at a dead-end job. Another tune analyzes the twisted relationship between a scientist and his robot creation: It ends badly, as do most of Brady's songs: Parts wear out after a while/Happens to everything, he sings, assuming the scientist's role with resignation. Particularly moving is "Prescription," which tells the story of a mental patient plagued by a brain full of voices on the eve of his release from a hospital: As long as I take my medicine/They tell me that I should do pretty well, croons Brady, who dedicates the song to his brother in the liner notes.

With all this shoegazing going on, it's refreshing to hear "Favorite," a sprightly three-and-a-half-minute paean to teenage fanclubs everywhere: I listen to your music in my room/Shutting out the world/Just me and you, Brady shouts, adopting the fan persona with a perceptible wink in his eye. It's one of the few light moments on this mostly somber affair, rising briefly from the ashes of misery before disappearing back into the abyss.

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