Monday, September 25, 2017

Future Friends | Superfruit

The most prominent group to come from the rise of contemporary a cappella at the beginning of this decade, five-piece vocal outfit Pentatonix boasts a relatively routine success story: Three friends from high school stopped at nothing to chase their dream to become performers, picking up a few other group members along the way and singing their way to winner's circle of a singing competition show. But since the beginning it was clear that there were two members who were a bit more charismatic than the others: Scott Hoying, the original curator of the Grammy-winning group after experience in a collegiate a cappella group, and Mitch Grassi, who is most often granted the center stage to showcase a vocal range that spans over five octaves.

Together, the two funneled their excess time into Superfruit, a joint YouTube account on which they performed covers and posted typical fodder like vlogs and challenges. First hinting at a transformation of the YouTube collaborative into a major-label music duo with a credited feature under the moniker on Betty Who's sophomore record earlier this year, Hoying and Grassi dropped the first half of what would become their debut album in June. Three months later, the full-length arrives as the 16-track Future Friends, a technicolor pop introduction to a brand-new Hoying and Grassi.

Future Friends breaks the limitations of contemporary a cappella that has made Pentatonix's original material so stagnant – because, let's be honest, a backdrop of vocal percussion can go only so far. Adorned in a variety of everything that makes pop both chintzy and lovable, the album boasts banging beats and LGBT-oriented lyrics. "I'm so over James Dean. I'm more of a three-names queen," they sing on "Heartthrob," dropping some gay slang along the way. "Worth It (Perfect)," meanwhile, spouts a grinding bass line and carries a forward-thinking, gender-bending music video.

With an undeniable chemistry as friends, collaborators, and roommates, Hoying and Grassi often perform as a simultaneous duo: Grassi on the melody, Hoying taking to the harmony or to the melody an octave below. But under Grassi's often-androgynous tenor wails, Hoying too often allows himself to become Grassi's glorified hype man; his lower notes get drowned in the saccharin-coated electronic pop backdrop. Though not a damning occurrence, because Hoying's voice does add weight to Grassi's thing warbles, Hoying's muted presence does run the perception of weighted importance on the two members who otherwise have a great thing going.

A flurry of pop influences shaped the duo's final product. As members of the viral gay community that finds joy in the most banging bops from power pop divas, Hoying and Grassi craft their music either with dance nostalgia in mind or to remain in line with contemporary trends. They sift through a myriad of pop textures in the first half of the record, from mid-2000s pop-rock on "Vacation" to the sleek, rhythmic groove of "Imaginary Parties," but settle on minimalist electronic dance influences through the second half. "Hurry Up!" carries itself with an expected urgency, clanking its way into a wobbling chorus akin to a lite version of Cashmere Cat, while "How You Feeling?" is the outright party track that embodies Superfruit's underlying goal through the album: to have fun.

After all, Superfruit as a music group is the same as Superfruit as a YouTube channel: A bit frivolous and conscious of its status as light entertainment, but undeniably fun. It's easy to understand why some may not deem the duo as a viable force in the pop music world, but after having already proven themselves worthy of attention in Pentatonix, Hoying and Grassi don't seem to concern themselves too deeply in perceptions of their work. Music tailored for a certain group of consumers can work when done well, as Superfruit proves here with novelty, upbeat, rainbow-coated pop. Within their niche LGBT+ and YouTube-savvy subcultures, they're already superstars in their own right.

Future Friends is available now under RCA Records.

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