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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Jack Frost - s/t

Name: Jack Frost
Album: s/t
Year: 1991
Style: Easy Listening Alternative Folk.
Similar Bands: Robyn Hitchcock, Pulp, The Church / Go Betweens, Love Spit Love / Psychedelic Furs, James, Lou Reed
"One-Word" Review: Light Earthy sparce folk squad
Based Out Of: Australia
Label: Artista, Bertelsmann Music Group, Red Eye Records
Jack Frost - Cover, Inner Picture & CD
Jack Frost - Liner Notes & CD Back

Jack Frost (1991)
  1. Every Hour God Sends 4:40
  2. Birdowner (as seen on TV) 4:15
  3. Civil War Lament 2:27
  4. Geneva 4 A.M. 4:08
  5. Trapeze Boy 1:34
  6. Providence 5:14
  7. Thought That I Was Over You 4:51
  8. Threshold 4:23
  9. Number Eleven 5:45
  10. Didn't Know Where I Was 5:07
  11. Even As We Speak* (CD Only) 5:41
  12. Ramble 6:11
  13. Everything Takes Forever 4:38
Album Rating (1-10): 6.0

Members & Other Bands:
Grant McLennan - Vox, Guitar, Bass, Co-Producer (The Go Betweens)
Steve Kilbey - Vox, Guitar, Bass, Keys, Drums, Producer, Mixing, Cover, Photography (The Church, Precious Little, Baby Grand, Hex, Curious (Yellow), Fake, Into the Sun, Isidore, Gilt Trip, Mimesis)
Pryce Surplice - Drums, Computers, Fairlignt CMI, Co-Producer, Mixing
Cypress Pike - Violin
Beau Laurel - Violin
Bridgette StCoeur - Viola
Nadia Komoroski - Cello
Tsen Xu - Oboe
Jim Black - Trumpet
Trini Garcia - Percussion
Karin Jansson - Backing Vox
Scott Christie - Mixdown Asst. Engineer
Sir Donald Bartley - Mastering
Jim Paton - Cover
Geoff Aitken - Photography

Unknown-ness: I had never heard of this band. Thinking back to when I got this CD I think I got it purely as a joke, as I was really into the horror film called Jack Frost, and I wanted to get this album of the same name. I know that the place I got it had the “listen before you buy” ability, so I can only imagine I took advantage of that, although I cannot remember what the record sounds like at all. It looks very cheap, with a low res. scanned image of the elderly woman on the front, and what one would only assume is a zoomed in picture of flowers from the cover on the back. Except that it is on a popular label, Artista, this album screams 90’s low budget alternative, which could mean nearly any musical genre.

Album Review: It is funny, with only the littlest research I found out that Jack Frost is a Australian supergroup made up of members from The Go-Betweens and The Church. That puts quite a different spin on the album than what I previously thought when I bought the album so many years ago. It has a great alternative/ songwriter cred. But will it be meandering gothic music like its two main members bring to the table from their other bands? I’ve read that it is a departure from their more famous outfits, and they forge their own style on this project.

“Every Hour God Sends” has a noisy echoing shreading guitar sound in the background that creates a distinctive early 90’s pre-alternative feel. The static drum beat is adequate, sounding mechanical and synthetic. And the two familiar singers take turns with the nearly spoken verse, and the melodic Robyn Hitchcock sounding chorus. It drones on, focusing on the short repetitive buzzing hooks, and only creats a wake up in the musical breakdown where the noise feels silent, and the drums seem to come to the musical front.
“Birdowner (as seen on TV)” begins with the same produced drum sound. The vocals are again spoken, but sound crisp and unnatural, like they are uttered through a megaphone. But the tone of the vocals follows suit of familiar Australian singers like INXS and Midnight Oil. In the background is a rather happy and upbeat piano/synth section that, combined with the jangely rhythm guitar creates an uplifting atmosphere that battles the darkness in the vocals and zooming electricity sound effects. Again the songs have very basic melodies, as not to tamper with too much depth. Any depth is created by the thickness of production, which falls flat on this 1991 digital copy. The choir of moaning in the chorus is similar to Robyn Hitchcock too.
“Civil War Lament” begins with acoustic guitar, as a folky ballad. The lyrics have a thickness through double layering and harmonizing that is downright haunting. It floats on by with its one dimension, almost like intermission filler on the album, never taking off, which should never have been expected to happen. And there is a very long fade out.
“Geneva 4 A.M.” starts simply with a rhythm guitar being strum and some wood blocks echoing. These drowsy early morning melodies are comparable to the title of the song, 4am is surely the time that this music would translate to. The vocals sound very loungey, and as the song picks up the vocal layers are added as are strings for a grand orchestral effect, which actually completes the song in making it sound like Pulp. Again, the sections of the song are so cut and dry and repetitive, that they feel basic, too basic for their own good.
“Trapeze Boy” is a very short story song, vocals spoken recapping a memory of a trapeze boy. It is very monotone, like Pulp again, and the music in the background Is full of string plucking and acoustic ballady uplifting folky music.
“Providence” is a quiet, raspy and gentle song that reminds me of Love Spit Love / Psych Furs for some reason. It is definitely a song that would be played on WXPN’s singer songwriter broadcasts. It builds with each verse, as a second vocal is layered in harmonic balancing, and strings accent the slow tempo of the song. It continuously builds, but I know from the past few songs, not for it to climax in any energy exerting way. It instead rhythm guitars to the end, with odd violin sounds that are reminiscent of exotic bird noises in a zoo.
“Thought That I Was Over You” features a very Robyn Hitchcock-like vocal in the beginning, and I wondered how it could not be him. It is vocal heavy and the guitar is mixed low in the background. Drums and bass are quietly added. The dual vocals return for the chorus, and the song just hovers along via strums and sad crooning. But it is the best, catchiest song yet, probably thanks to the music being mixed very simply and efficiently, and the chorus being simple, standing out and possessing a slight variation in its final repetition.

“Threshold” starts as a spacey, earthy, organic repetitive guitar and echoing synth. Here the band takes on a little of what James did later with their Seven and Laid albums. But it sounds so synthetic that it is almost like eating wax fruit. It just feels wrong, empty and fragile. This is like light-prog. I could still see all the energy given into this song if performed live, all the lights and blowing fans, but somehow it only exports this meager sound.
“Number Eleven” features more James-Esq calm and soothing vocals and the song itself features a woodwind bongo-percussion, if such a thing even exists. It is quiet and dreamily floating song, like much of the great stuff from Laid. But this does not strike me the way that James could, the sentiment seems less genuine in only by comparison. But judgment on emotion should not be based on what Tim Booth can do, as he can create Jeff Buckley level of emotion with his voice, and that should not be the standard. This slightly new age song is something you put on to lull a date to that romantic place, with non-threatening, and somewhat reassuringly sensual vocals.
“Didn't Know Where I Was” finally kicks up the pace with an outburst of electric guitar and the louder James-like vocals. A driving drum and slide guitar backing the dual layered vocals in the chorus creates the slightly anthemic feel to this powerful song. Perhaps it feels powerful since we were lulled to sleep by the preceding two tracks, but the energy increase here is welcomed, but it is still reserved. This recording sounds like a demo, the vocals not quite on time or key, but it still sounds good.
“Even As We Speak” has a piano banging out one note very repetitively. It changes with the chord changes of the bass that is added in the background, but really is odd in that the vocals are very calm and sad, but the energy from the piano would seem to evoke more emotion. Eventually you completely forget about the piano, which is still there, but overshadowed by the rising synth notes and echoing slow tempo drum beat. Just as the chorus feels like it is going to deliver some grand catchy hook, it slinks down and falls back in place to the verse. So this pseudo hook is pretty good, but there is no delivery.
“Ramble” will most likely live up to its name, if "Geneva 4am" is any proof that their songs are summarized by their titles. The slow crusty eye beginning leads to a light drummer boy marching cadence. There is so much open space in these songs that it is hard to maintain interest. This song too is an early rising, awakening song. The vocals are spoken in tune, similar to my limited knowledge of Lou Reed. And after the vocals give out, a long, yes, rambling instrumental does nothing to change up the song-scape. The vocals come back for the last minute plus, but they seem to be a, yes, rambling story that with more emotion and energy, could have possibly been similar to James’ “Sometimes.”
“Everything Takes Forever” features a violin prominently, as that is what the entire melody is based on from the very first note. The vocals seem to be trying to fit themselves into the melody, sometimes forcing the syllables sometimes just tumbling down. Here the Robyn Hitchcock vocals return for the chorus. In the verse , the vocals are like Booth’s, and I am reminded, thanks to the orchestral sound of the strings, of the Booth & The Bad Angel album here a bit. The tempo of the song is like a slow side to side swaying sea shanty song. Or a drinking waltz.

Stand-Out Track: "Thought That I Was Over You"
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