by Niccolo Dante Porcello (@chromechompsky)
Tall Friend’s remarkable new album Safely Nobody’s is a deeply affecting record, the likes of which only comes around so often. Across the svelte 16-minute run time, Charlie Pfaff and the rest of Tall Friend explore themes that belie their method of delivery; although no song exceeds 2:15, each of the 9 songs pack such a significant punch that listening becomes an unnerving experience. Somewhat like Quarterbacks and Jawbreaker Reunion before them, Tall Friend render visceral experiences into beautiful and ultra concise packages that exist as both a catharsis and as a deeply personal diary brought to life.
From the opening voicemail “Mother” to the stunning “KB,” Safely Nobody’s feels like an invited intrusion on Pfaff’s existence — all of the somberness of a funeral is paired with the euphoric resilience of someone who has been dealt a particularly grim hand and survives. On “Oats,” Pfaff sings: “mom/ calls from the hospital/ happy birthday now/ you're all grown up/ but mom/ I tell her later/ I have been grown since/ I was small.” It's a moment that is claustrophobic in its emotion — the crushing weight of reaching the age where one has to define their personhood to the people who raised them is juxtaposed with a moment where it seems almost unfair to make that stand. What response could possibly suffice?
These are the questions that Safely Nobody’s confronts, and although there are no answers offered — that isn’t the point here — there are moments that mirror the peaks of hope and consolation in traumatic moments. On closer “Small Space” Tall Friend find a bouncy groove and deal in somewhat less morbid subject matter: “think of a kid learning how to ice skate/ there's blood on the ice/ but he’s quick on his blades/ I can’t go out/ I just cling to the wall.” Its a matter of degrees, but the marginal pivot from brutally personal to that of (still first-person) general is a diffusion of tension at the tail end of the record that deftly serves to embolden Tall Friend’s seeming mantra, that momentary relief is the partner of unrepentant honesty.
Musically, Tall Friend find feel in the simmering compositions that swell and contract throughout Safely Nobody’s, mixing punk-y moments with the laid back progressions like those on “Radio” and “72.” Pfaff’s tenor creeps over the meandering guitar lines that stay just controlled enough to keep the songs compact. Nothing is musically wasted, as tight drumming provides a valuable backbone to Pfaff’s ur-sorrow, with an end result of the record absolutely rocking. Profound melancholy apart, it is an ultimately catchy 16 minutes that is zeitgeisty without being trite, and painful in all of the right ways. This is an excellent exhibition of what can be done when emotionally lush songwriting is paired with excellent musicianship, akin to the work of former label-mates Krill, Palehound, and (perhaps more obtusely) the work of IAN SWEET. Tall Friend have made a singularly great, desolate record with Safely Nobody’s that delivers empathy without demanding it, and feels utterly unique.