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Joshua Lewis’ career has blossomed from both sides of the studio glass. The Boise, ID multi-instrumentalist has amassed nearly ten years of engineering and production credits with local artists, and in 2021, he ventured into self-recording his debut Too Soft. With its warm gazes back at 1970s pop-rock crooning, the record’s eponymous softness enveloped its tales of heartbreak and longing with halos of inviting melodies and layered instrumentation. For its followup, Lewis strived to challenge his bona fides as a musician by encouraging to a loose, expressive songwriting workflow. “When I knew I wanted to start a new record, I wanted to push myself to go beyond what I was doing in the past. At first I knew I wanted it to be simple, yet have complexity in harmony, to be clean sounding, and to carry an emotional weight,” he explains.
Friction, the end result of this experiment, earns its breezy yet earnest tones from yacht rock. Throughout Lewis’ new set, the core tenets of the genre are offered in spades. Ear-tickling melodies, like the parabolic sway of the vocal on opener “Thinkin’ About You,” guide listeners through crystal-clear production values and a storytelling bent both misty-eyed and microscopic in its detailing. This balancing act of simplicity and shrewd twists in formula stems from Lewis’ love of Steely Dan, masters of this tightrope walk. “You can hear a song that’s so playful or sweet, and they just throw theory around like nobody’s business: pop sensibility with left turns to keep you guessing and keep your attention. I love that, I wish I heard more of it today.”
“Heartbreaker,” Friction’s first single, was also the starting point for the album’s wish fulfillment. Built off a simple Casio loop and cradles of guitar, it transforms into a wistful rocker spinning a simple, pointillistic vignette of an elusive lover. While the mystery continues, a descending guitar figure explodes into an instrumental coda that takes over the song’s final moments. As a case study in playful and expansive arrangements, it also possesses lyricism that manages to “tell a story without really saying it,” with a listener’s emotional attachment filling in narrative gaps. “I usually sing nonsense words and noises to a melody I like, and little by little, certain words would pop out and stick,” Lewis remarks on its construction. “I liked saying fun lines that I didn’t think were related to each other, and that just sounded cool. It wasn’t until the recording was done that I felt somehow it did make sense.”
This commitment to crafting studio gems from these idiosyncratic beginnings continued as the album took shape, molded in collaboration with drummer Tanner Schut. Schut kicks off “It’s All the Same to Me,” where strutting guitar gives way to another punchy, infectious vocal performance hovering over where a departed lover’s shadow still clings to each word. Climbing piano closes this reverie out, but not before a delectable harmony ping-pongs between what these two characters might say and feel for and about one another. “Second Hand Chances” jets off syrupy vocal trails and emphatic chords, the action dropping in and out like a skipped heartbeat, before an extended instrumental break allows tracks of guitar and piano to converge into a brilliant melodic exhale.
Friction might rub liberally against the pangs of heartache and disconnection, but the twin flames of “Reilly”—a saccharine, shimmering ode—and closer “You and Me” offer relief from this pain, if only for a fleeting verse. The album concludes with a staggering multi-part harmony, cooing “bye bye, watching you go after the only time that you stayed.” Perhaps the ending is left up to the listener, lyrical curveballs par for the course here. It also echoes like an intentional bookend—allowing Joshua Lewis to return for his next studio album in a new state of mind, retaining fun and free-spirited creation as his guiding principles.
"'Heartbreaker' stretches past the five-and-a-half minute mark thanks to a lengthy guitar solo that it’s very easy to get lost in. The song’s full of musical details and nuance that makes it a particularly engaging listen, and an encouraging signpost for the rest of the record."
- Backseat Mafia
"Built off a simple Casio loop and cradles of guitar, it transforms into a wistful rocker spinning a simple, pointillistic vignette of an elusive lover. While the mystery continues, a descending guitar figure explodes into an instrumental coda that takes over the song’s final moments."
- Glide Magazine
“With soaring vocal harmonies that fit somewhere in between the pop bliss of George Harrison and John Mayer, Joshua Lewis is well on his way to superstardom with great songs like this. ‘It was all about discipline and motivation to make the best possible thing I was capable of, striving for perfection and doing what I love,’ Lewis explains. With his heart firmly planted in the right place, Lewis transcends the boundaries of his music ability in this great-sounding single.”