Round Table Review
Frost* — Day And Age
Frost* returns with their fourth full-length studio album, Day And Age. One never knows exactly what to expect from this band, and they again deliver on that unpredictability.
One goal this time was to create a progressive rock album devoid of any soloing. Quite a task for musicians at this level of virtuosity. How does it all turn out? Well, there is not a widdly guitar or keyboard solo to be found. You would hardly notice though, as the musicianship throughout is outstanding.
I won't spoil the opening spoken word introduction, but the title track that it leads into is one of the best starts to an album that I've heard in a long time. With its memorable hooks, catchy chorus and fantastic instrumental second half, the song is an instant classic.
Terrestrial is a strong rocker that at times bears a resemblance to guitarist John Mitchell's other project, Lonely Robot. The fact that Mitchell is the lead vocalist on the track could play into that. He actually sings more on this album than any of the previous Frost* releases.
Waiting for the Lie places things securely back in the Frost* camp. Sung by Jem Godfrey, this memorable track builds from its quiet start, to its thunderous end in a way that could be no other band.
It took me a little while to warm up to The Boy Who Stood Still. Instrumentally, the song is an absolute wonder. One of the band's best in that respect. However, utilising a spoken word story can help a song to grow stale after a few listens. In difference, this one became more effective after hearing it multiple times. The instrumentation and the dialogue feel naturally inter-twined. The results are cinematic and quite stunning. That said, I also look forward to hearing the instrumental version of this track that will be included on the special edition release.
Island Life is a more straightforward rock song, again sung by Mitchell. This one sounding a bit like It Bites. The fun, immediacy of the track feels perfectly placed. It stands as a more upbeat moment before Skyward effectively begins the darker-toned back-end to the album.
Kill the Orchestra is quintessential Frost*. Loaded with wonderful melodies, quirky lyrics and masterful production, it is compelling stuff. Repeat to Fade is also a corker and a brilliant close to another smashingly successful album by this talented band.
As a critic, maintaining decorum and being objective is important. Regardless, I will gush without a moment's hesitation that Day And Age further cements Frost* as one of, if not the best band in modern progressive rock.
They are consistently creating music that is distinctive, intricate and most importantly, essential. Their drive to continually challenge themselves and their fans is clear. That alone is impressive, but the fact that the results are so entertaining is the icing on the cake. Yes, there are a few moments here that are somewhat derivative of John Mitchell's other work, but that is a minor scrabble.
Throughout this album, sound-bytes of the term “Enjoy Yourselves” are inserted into the proceedings. I can't imagine anyone listening to Day And Age and doing anything else.
Conventional wisdom says that the even-numbered Star Trek movies are the better ones. Who am I to disagree?.
Conversely, the pattern appears to work the other way round when it comes to Frost* releases. I never really took to album number 2 (Experiments In Mass Appeal) or last year's EP number 4 (Others), which represent what I like to call the "noisy" side of Frost*. I do quite like album number 1 Milliontown; regarded by many as somewhat of a modern classic. I love number 3 (Falling Satellites) and now it's safe to say I'm quite impressed by number 5 Day And Age.
A brilliant album throughout, which manages to sound in equal parts sophisticated, yet streamlined; classic yet modern. It encapsulates what makes a near-perfect piece of music, namely engaging song-writing, relevant subject matter and authoritative performances by all involved. Hats-off to the powerful drumming trifecta of guests Kaz Rodriguez, Darby Todd and the mighty Pat Mastelotto, with Nathan King providing the perfect foil with some crunchy bass lines. It also benefits from both its relative brevity, never outstaying its welcome at a reasonably brisk 53 minutes, as well as the flawless balance it strikes between its two vocalists: Jem Godfrey and John Mitchell.
In an album full of great songs, to say the opening title track is a highlight means we're dealing with an instant classic here. Believe me when I say it is one of those songs you can listen to on repeat and never get tired of it. After a sweet, if slightly mischievous little girl invites us to "enjoy yourselves...you scum!", an impressive 12 minutes of high energy prog unfolds before our ears, with its driving amalgam of The Police and 80s Genesis via Kino and Lonely Robot. If anything, it could actually have kept going for a few minutes more instead of fading out.
Traces of The Police are also perceptible on both Terrestrial and Island Life, which play out as irresistibly-catchy, syncopated prog-pop in the vein of Ghost In The Machine / Synchronicity but with an electronic twist. It is commonplace to say this now, but in a perfect world tracks such as these would (should) make the charts.
The other pair of shorter songs, Waiting For The Lie and Skywards, work as some sort of ethereal, balmy balance to their punchier counterparts; think of Falling Satellites' British Wintertime to get the idea.
Don't you fret if words like "adventurous" seem to be absent from this review, as there's plenty of room for more unconventional song-writing. A case in point is the simply delightful The Boy Who Stood Still; an experiment which would be doomed to failure in lesser hands, but here strikes just the right balance between quirky, spoken word narrative (courtesy of actor Jason Isaacs) and killer, infectious funk.
If these memorable seven-odd minutes are not enough for you, then let me point you to the one-two punch of Kill The Orchestra and the closing track Repeat To Fade. The former being the most intricate piece in the whole album with its nine minutes of shifting moods and dynamics, while the latter acts as a sort of coda. Both are excellent but they're best appreciated if listened to back-to-back, as a 16-minute epic rather than separately, which maybe means they aren't as impactful on their own.
Release number five is an album which manages to be thought-provoking while being a lot of fun to listen to. From the artwork to the production and everything in-between, this is a role-model for what modern progressive rock should be.
"Enjoy yourselves, you scum," is the welcoming salvo to another massive ear-slab from this most unique of British "supergroups". Now a threesome, Godfrey, Mitchell and King have corralled the talents of three replacement drummers in Kaz Rodriguez (Chaka Khan, Josh Groban), Darby Todd (The Darkness, Martin Barre) and percussion godhead Pat Mastelotto (Mister Mister, King Crimson). As if the sound palette wasn't large enough in the first place? Why not!
So, does the listener obey and enjoy his/herself? I'd say so. Take opener Day And Age. It is a 12-minute throbbing monster, kicked-off rather menacingly by a child telling us what to do. She sounds like the sort who would steal your ice cream, then kick you in the shins. Musically it follows a similar imagery, with a pulsing base riff around which the band melds light and dark within the band's trademark enormous dynamic range. The simple-yet-frenetic rhythms are punctuated by brief quiet passages replete with guitar harmonics and the "enjoy yourself" motif. It's not far off Milliontown in expanse, although I miss the glorious soloing such as from Falling Satellite's Closer to the Sun. As I alluded to in my review of the Others EP, I'm not a fan of the modulated vocals. These thankfully are not anywhere near as plentiful here.
Terrestrial rolls interestingly along with an inventive Ozricy synth backdrop and layered vocals. It then jumps firmly into hard-rock territory for the chorus. The spacey bridge echoes some 80s pop, then the baselines are reintroduced with woofer-challenging heaviness and a very proggy time-signature, before descending finally into a Bladerunner style fade-out. Marvellous.
Gem puts on his Tori Amos outfit for the atmospheric piano of Waiting for the Lie. The production is so lovely here it sounds like they made this in a cathedral rather than the converted coastguard tower in East Sussex. At the end, we are told by the child again to: "Wake up!". Because up next is likely the most interesting track on the album; the story of a boy with a talent to remain perfectly still and to fade away into obscurity, becoming an overarching witness of the world. It brings to mind Marillion's Invisible Man. The "enjoy yourself" refrain morphs into a 1920s-style radio edit to finish, before launching into another more straightforward rocker in Island Life.
Skywards synths its way across a tale of bleak desperation, but chimes a hopeful note with instructions to "keep facing forwards". There's no pause for breath before equally the dour Kill the Orchestra tricks you into a kind of scary lullaby, complete with crunchy, downbeat action. The vocals are a little back in the mix though, before the resurgent narrator reminds us (with a Barry White flavour) to "relax" and, you guessed it, enjoy ourselves. Indeed, the bluesy, languishing ending is rather soothing. Not what you usually associate with Frost*.
We end with Repeat to Fade, which really just repeats the previous theme with some added operatic backing vocals and some huge Mastelotto drum thumping. It's room-shaking and large, albeit not as memorable as earlier tracks. We are reminded that we are subservient and never free, which is cheery, and the "enjoy yourself" becomes a shouted order, rather than a suggestion.
I'm tempted to draw parallels with the recently reviewed Transatlantic release; hot anticipation, mostly positive on initial impression, but a definite grower. But as the Transatlantic release was largely recorded with very distant musicians, and then stitched together, this Frost* opus sounds very far from the plethora of "lockdown" recordings we have heard recently. No, it is large and cohesive, and almost has a big-band feel. A great way to mark the beginning of the end of a pandemic. So go on, enjoy yourselves!