Frost* - Experiments In Mass Appeal


Year of Release: 2008
Label: InsideOut
Catalog Number: IOMCD 303 / SPV 79932
Format: CD
Total Time: 56:49:00

When I lasted visited this chilly concoction, I was decrying their premature melt. But a change in weather (or in mind for Jem Godfrey) in the intervening time put the band back in the freezer -- a rare instance when putting a band on ice brings it back to life. What resulted in 2008 was the solid block of Frost*'s sophomore release, Experiments In Mass Appeal. Added to the mix since Milliontown is Declan Burke (Darwin's Radio) on vocals and guitar; returning from the first outing are John Mitchell (guitars), John Jowitt (bass), and Andy Edwards (drums/percussion).

While with a title like Experiments In Mass Appeal you might think the band have left the confines of progressive rock for poppier terrain, the truth is they have not. Well, except that Frost* deal in the more commercial end of progressive rock anyway, often referred to as "neo-prog." So while we're not expecting the jagged, snowy peaks of avant-prog, nor can we expect lukewarm puddles pop music, in truth Frost* have remained solid, but smooth, and are skiing down the slopes of MOR-prog rock*. True to their name, the whole thing seems quite cold. In part it's the vocals -- throughout Burke's vocals are smooth, but they give the affair a snowy (gauzy, hazy, dreamy) affair, which is strengthened when background vocals join in -- but also the whole tonal quality of the instruments. The warmest moments come with "Saline" and "Toys" (a bit more on them shortly).

Experiments is full of explosive dynamics, no less than in the title track, which goes from almost subliminal -- at first, just the throb of drums, some rain-like effects, then lacy guitar and soft, delicate vocals -- to intensely dramatic -- crashing drums, screaming keys, full-tilt vocals -- all within a space of a few minutes. And it doesn't grab you in its icy grip right at the start, doesn't build up to it as temperatures drop, but rather slams you like a sudden blizzard. The track starts so very, very quiet - hence my use of the word subliminal - that these more powerful sections leap from the speakers. Which gives this proviso ... if you listen to it loud enough to hear the quiet intro, you might blow out your speakers when the blast of sound kicks in. In the midst of this there are sections that fall in between, mellow but with average audible range, featuring plunking piano and vocals.

That isn't to say each track has the same minimalist/extremist dynamic. As evidenced by "Pocket Sun," a throbbing rocker with lots of frenetic keyboard and drum work; it's a scratchy track, fuzzed and distorted, with silky smooth vocals gliding over the chaos. And there's "Dear Dead Days" with its swirling, widdly keyboards. It's a chilly yet lush piece; dry yet epic, and at times recalls "Pocket Sun." It begins with a stuttering sonic keyboard effect that will at first listen have you checking your CD player to make sure the laser isn't stuck (I know I did) and there is one point during this glistening track where we get a section that is highly "digitalized" - it seems out of place except that the keyboard effect at the start recurs throughout the track. "Dear Dead Days" flows seamlessly into "Falling Down," a track that is maybe too bland despite a steady percussive/bass throb. It's not a bad track and there some very nice performances -- searing guitar work at one point -- but overall it seems quite vanilla compared to some of the other pieces here. It's a white out, I guess, where it's hard to see the snowflakes for the snow?

One of my favorites is "Saline," a mostly mellow track that is tickling my memory receptors with its sweet, sparse arrangement -- sparse even towards the end where the orchestral swell of keyboards and the layering of vocals are added. The memory drawn forth is of ELO's "Strange Magic" - well, actually just the opening vocal section of that classic. The main arrangement of "Saline" and "Strange Magic" are quite different, and perhaps, other than my having mentioned it, you wouldn't have made the association**. There are also some hints at other mellow sounds of the 70s, though I don't think it's deliberate. Nevertheless, this is a mellow piece with fragile acoustic guitar textures and soft vocals. Structurally and even in mood, it also recalls for me Spock's Beard.

What might qualify as edging towards pop is the high-energy of "Toys" - it's peppy with a sunshine summer time feel perfect for speeding along a highway, each percussive beat matched to the beat of the road, guitars tick by like watching the spokes of wheels spinning 'round. However, it still has enough modern prog elements to keep it far from being really a pop tune.

"Wonderland" closes the album, and like elsewhere, we get big, epic rock, although this one reaches for even loftier heights. We get the soft/hard dynamics here, grand keyboard and guitar figures, a full spread of crashing drums and percussion - almost a wall of sound apiece with the vocals. It's the closing refrain of "It's alright, it's alright" that will probably stick in your mind.

There is a hidden track, untitled, featuring reedy, breathy vocals, sparse guitar, and soft pulse of drums -- toms, I think -- their almost hollow resonance like a heartbeat. Within a short time, piano-like keys are added, giving this balladic piece and epic quality. It's sad plea with the refrain "Remember me?" It's Roland electronic piano that closes out the track with gentle undulations of sound, like breathing and in some ways, takes us back to the album's beginning.

Experiments is a nice follow up to Milliontown. I don't know that it has the same immediacy that Milliontown had; maybe the whole "novelty" of the particular elements has warn off, I don't know. I do like Experiments, but it may take some more time to say whether I like it more, less, or the same as the debut. And that's not a bad thing as I don't mind having to listen to this over and over. (Especially as I already have been since before their RoSFest 2009 appearance last spring!

A version of this album with a bonus DVD is also available (IOMSECD 303/SPV 79930). Since this album's release, Jowitt and Edwards have left, the latter at least from live performances, with Nathan King taking over on bass and Alex Thomas taking over on drums (at least live).

*by which I mean in this case "middle of the run" rather than "middle of the road" -the first only a play on the meaning of the latter. **Oh dear me; in re-reading my review of Milliontown, it seems I've encountered a memory-flash between Frost* and ELO before, and to the same song in fact! That is, I make a comment about "Strange Magic" in connection with "Milliontown"? interesting? especially given that Godfrey (maybe all of Frost*) have covered the ELO tune "Here Is The News."


Tracklisting:
Experiments In Mass Appeal (8:00) / Welcome To Nowhere (5:31) / Pocket Sun (4:28) / Saline (6:06) / Dear Dead Days (6:50) / Falling Down (5:49) / You/I (1:06) / Toys (3:03) / Wonderland (15:48) [from 7:33 on is the untitled bonus track]

Musicians:
Jem Godfrey - synthesizers, vocals, piano, acoustic guitar and ebow
John Mitchell - guitars, vocals, ebow, violin
Declan Burke - vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar
John Jowitt - bass
Andy Edwards - drums, percussion

Guest:

Belinda Sykes - additional vocals (1)

Discography:
Milliontown (2006)
Frost Tour EP (avail. only on '08's tour) (2008)
Experiments In Mass Appeal (2008)
FrostFest Live CD (available from band website) (2009)
The Philadelphia Experiment (2010)
The Rockfield Files (2013)
Falling Satellites (2016)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: January 18th 2010
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Score:
Artist website: www.frost.life
Hits: 1971
Language: english

  

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