Hot Debut: Friko’s ‘Where we’ve been, Where we go from here’

It starts slow; listen close, or you’ll miss it—a film reel plays in the background, music slowly filling the space around it as Niko Kapetan delivers the first few lines of “Where We’ve Been.” The first song maps the entire track list, starting gently and building to a satisfying snap: a second set of vocals breaks from the chorus to overlap with the first, giving desperate, unintelligible cries that can barely be heard over a thunderous harmony. The introduction alludes to a story, a memory told in both lyric and sound. The very title of the album suggests the same, and this nostalgia evokes a range of emotions throughout the entirety of Where we’ve been, Where we go from here.

Friko, a duo based in Chicago and composed of vocalist/guitarist Kapetan and drummer Bailey Minzenberger, hit the ground running with their full-length debut. In an interview with Our Culture, Kapetan shared that, in his opinion, all the best music houses “grievances and deep sorrow, but there’s the light in it.” This belief is clearly reflected in their own album, from the order in which tracks are arranged to the places their lyrics take us. Minzenberger revealed that “every time Niko plays us a new song, I cry. I just feel very touched by everything. Also, that doesn’t mean inherent sadness, it’s just feeling really connected to it and being really moved by it.” The relationship that Friko share with music is deeply personal, and it is hard not to share the sentiment when confronted with the raw, almost cathartic patchwork of emotion present in Where we’ve been, Where we go from here. It’s the kind of album that you get lost in, with a diverse tracklist exceptional in both sound and composition.

Explosive tracks like “Crashing Through” and “Chemical” boast a sort of reckless declaration of power. You feel untouchable as you navigate the scenes these two songs portray. “Chemical” is loud and bursting at the seams with energy that Friko dares you to defy, yet is standoffish in sound alone. The lyrics are concise, just enough to a portray a listless life of aimless wandering, “Walk[ing] through alleys in the dark / and never say[ing] enough,” while maintaining that deceptively upbeat sound. Similarly, the contradictory mood of “Crashing Through” is captured by its music video. The duo stumble into a crowded room, pushing through or crawling between the legs of its occupants without a clear destination. The title suggests a violent outburst, something uncontrollable and volatile, but in reality it’s quite the opposite. “I haven’t said what I mean to say / haven’t done what I mean to do,” repeats again and again into a conglomeration of noise and passion that capsizes with “all the light crashing through.”

It is ironic, then, that “For Ella” is sandwiched between the two. This track is a personal favorite—a classical piano ballad that packs so much emotion into such little time that it leaves space for nothing but rapt attention. The song’s accompanying stop-motion video tells the story of a life taken too soon. Our Ella, gone from romping through puddles on rainy days to a shooting star, a “floating ballerina through the yard.” It is sweet and sad, a beautiful portrayal of grief capable of resonating with other interpretations as well. In a broader sense, Ella is a representation of youth in general—a nostalgic ode to a time when those missing “her” were young themselves. She symbolizes wide eyed wonder and curiosity, big dreams not yet snuffed out or the innocent acceptance of no dream at all: “the puddles were the ocean,” and that was enough. The lines “took a ride into the west side / to see the city with your own eyes / but the flicker of the light was too bright” reinforce this alternate perspective. It’s hard to imagine that time when the city still seemed so big, enticing in a way that speaks to inexperience. It erupts into “Crashing Through” with an outcry of “Ave Maria!” that pulls us right back from the depths of mourning Ella.

Friko takes us up and down, guides us through ballads and indie rock gems until the final track “Cardinal” closes the album with a lullaby.  Even so early into 2024, Where we’ve been, Where we go from here has cemented itself as one my favorite albums of the year so far. The composition of the track list is one of the things that makes it so special. The way one song bleeds into another so drastically different is no small feat; Friko owns their sound and exists in a delicate balance between soft and aggressive that’s impossible not to appreciate. Layer upon layer of detail speak to Friko’s dedication to and success in their craft—and there’s nothing more enjoyable than listening to music from a band whose passion you can feel.

You can catch Friko accompanying Water From Your Eyes in OKC on May 8th.