Ukiyo — Friends (ft. JANEVA)

Set in his own tiny bubble in the hills of Perth, Australia, 23-year-old multi-instrumentalist and producer Timothy Arnott, aka Ukiyo, finds a form of escapism through his music. To date, Ukiyo’s music has gained notoriety for its cinematic qualities, earning him early support in YouTube videos from Will Smith, inclusions in various video syncs with Netflix and support from culture icons like Pharrell Williams.

Friday the 13th saw no freakish occurrences for Ukiyo. Instead, he revealed to the world his latest single “Friends,” which features on his new self-titled album Ukiyo, also released on the same day. The album is a celebration of Australia’s music scene; everything from production, to features, mixing, mastering, artwork is all 100% Australian. Some of the country’s best also contribute to the record with an all-star line-up that features Panama, Maribelle, JANEVA, and Sammi Constantine.

Timothy is very outspoken on his own mental illnesses and is open about his journey with his own mental health. A largely introverted character, he created Ukiyo in self-induced isolation well before COVID-19 lockdown measures gripped Australia, meaning the music will now eerily be consumed through distinctly similar experiences by fans.

“Friends” is a dark but catchy pop track. Featuring fellow Australian vocalist and producer JANEVA, the track is acutely short in length, coming in at just over the two-minute mark. However, there’s plenty of content flowing within those 127 seconds.

Sonically, JANEVA’s lyrics accompany a soundscape fueled by quirky sounding synths, ominous backing vocals and sparse but punchy backbeats. It’s a poppy head-bobber and marks a more commercial-sounding move compared to some of Ukiyo’s more cinematic-feeling singles.

The lyrical content in “Friends” pivots around subtle disputes and confrontations between two friends or, perhaps, lovers. The opening lines read: “Only want me when you feel like / Always thinkin’ of yourself, right / When I need you on my side / I can’t catch up to where you’re at.” These proclamations are contrasted with a repeated plead to “just play it fair,” and the track’s short length leaves a sense of ambiguity as to whether this plead can ultimately be met.

The music video for the track enhances this sense of ambiguity. Through contemporary, expressive dance, a couple in the video physically display their emotions through dance which vary from bold, striking moves to more subtle, almost melancholic moments. This ultimately paints a clever, visual representation of how an array of emotions can become entangled in love disputes and confrontations.

“Friends” is a catchy pop track that is authentically Ukiyo and authentically Australian, but beneath its layers lies dark, and curiously ambiguous lyrical content that seeks to be explored further.