Early on in Friends for Now, their debut album, S.F.'s Young Prisms deliver what is either a mission statement, a basic affirmation of existence, or both: "I'm still high/I'm still alive." Consider these lines from "Sugar" the band's declaration of intent, its "I think, therefore I am" — a reassuring certainty, an objective asserted. They're sung by all members and linger far above the rest of the album's distant vocals and echo-laden guitars.
So as you'd expect, getting high is a big part of the life and sound of Young Prisms. Their debut single, "Weekends and Treehouses," was inspired by the three original members' habit, back in their high school days, of smoking bowls in a treehouse on a friend's spacious San Mateo County property. Friends for Now is, as singer-bassist Giovanni Betteo describes it, a postcard from a time when having intoxicated fun with each other is one of life's central occupations. And he's talking about the present. "It's just a document of being young and drunk and stoned and whatever else," he explains. "We're at this stage in our lives, and none of it's really going to matter five years, ten years from now."
But you could also see those lines as an assertion of sonic identity for Young Prisms, whose washy, insistent psychedelia stands out among the crowded S.F. dream-punk scene. Friends for Now envelopes the ears with largeness, its racing guitars and swelling keyboard lines evoking the ethereal majesty of bands like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. The record sometimes sounds derivative, but it always sounds high, both literally — ambitious, gargantuan, full of bright and shady melodic possibilities — and as though the people who made it were elated by chemicals along with sonics.
If it's a little giddy, a little wet-behind-the ears, well, they aren't called Young Prisms for nothing. Three of the band's four members are Bay Area natives who met in high school or earlier, and two — Betteo and keyboardist/vocalist Stefanie Hodapp — have been dating since then. The oldest member, drummer Jordan Silbert, recently turned 25; Betteo and guitarist Matt Allen are 22. The band formed somewhat by chance in 2008, after the original four members met Silbert while discussing Sonic Youth at a party, then ran into him the next day going to the Treasure Island Music Festival. (Guitarist Jason Hendardy left the band last month.) Just over two years later, Young Prisms have an EP, a few singles, and an album out on small but prestigious indie labels. Last year the band toured Europe (or tried to: many of its U.K. dates were cancelled to the December snowpocalypse, and Betteo, Hodapp, and Allen spent five days languishing in a weather-stymied terminal at London's Heathrow International: "It was like a bomb shelter," Betteo remembers. "People were sleeping on the floor, in the hallways, in front of the bathrooms — it was a mess.")
Part of Young Prisms' quick rise is due to fashion. Its particular set of influences are popular ones these days, and the band certainly isn't alone in its sound, either in San Francisco or in other dens of indieness like Brooklyn. Young Prisms even shared a rehearsal space and a producer with Weekend, another S.F. dream-punk band, after the two met when they realized they had just put out records on the Mexican Summer label. Young Prisms sound a bit lighter, and somewhat more tangible, than the darker, leaner explorations of their friends Weekend, but those differences are slight — the groups sound more alike than different. Weekend's Shaun Durkhan "will talk about how we influence each other, vibe off each other," Betteo says. Touring together around the U.S. and up the East Coast last year extended the cross-pollination when the bands saw each other play every night. But Young Prisms' bassist won't say which he thinks is better. "I'd offend either Matt or Shaun if I picked either one!" he protests.
Yet you can't entirely blame fashion for Young Prisms' rise — there's something in the band's songs that separates it from the crowded field of psychedelic-obsessed postpunk. "If You Want To," from Friends for Now, rides a jangly, repeating guitar-pop figure into a Force 5 anthem, throwing the members' hazy vocals on top at the climax just for added mass. It sounds more beautiful the more you listen to it. And that song runs straight into the dogged, epiphanic rhythms of "Sugar," possibly the debut album's best song, and Young Prisms' aforementioned mission statement. They're still high, and let's hope they stay that way.