Album Review: Frost*, Experiments In Mass Appeal

[from MadeLoud, March 25, 2009]

Once upon a time – 1998 or so – there was an invisible line drawn between progressive rock and alternative rock, with both camps understanding they could only cross over to the other side briefly and under the most bizarre of circumstances. Pop songs meant cries of “sellout” directed at the former; the faintest hint of chops brought accusations of pretension to the latter.

In the time since, whether through the internet helping previously unknown musical communities to the fore or merely through the true reach of Yes finally revealing itself, much of that vitriol has died down save for the most rabid of critics and overly protective fanboys, leaving a generation championed by Radiohead and Muse free to borrow in equal parts from both Peter Gabriel-era and Phil Collins-era Genesis.

Out of this duality comes Frost*, the quasi-progressive, partially alternative, primarily rocking quintet brainchild of UK-based hit factory Jem Godfrey. As a pop and dance songwriter, Godfrey made his name writing and producing for the likes of Jennifer Ellison and Atomic Kitten, but with Experiments in Mass Appeal, Godfrey delves further into the slightly complicated brand of progressive rock on which he cut his teeth.

Genre purists beware: Frost*’s brand of “progressive” should not be confused with the ELP school of ridiculous chops and aspirations to neo-classicism. Rather, Godfrey and his band employ the stylistic marks of prog as accents on top of some fairly straightforward modern rock songs (the near-16 minutes of closer “Wonderland” notwithstanding, which revels in its multiple sections, highly complicated guitar and keyboard lines and time signature fluctuations).

“Dear Dead Days,” for example, opens with a nasty distorted keyboard riff straight out of the Derek Sherinian school of heavy piano and floods the track with winding synth lines, until the rest of the band kicks in and scales the song back to a straight-ahead rocker. Couple this with the stuttered piano over mid-tempo industrial beats on “Falling Down” and faint echoes of Rush’s “Closer to the Heart” on the acoustic “Saline,” and Frost*’s M.O. becomes clear: be weird if necessary, but only if necessary.

The group’s ambitions come to a head early in the disc – the titular opening track, in fact – as the subtle acoustic guitar and piano introduction gives way to a full-bombast choral arrangement, complete with walls of distortion and a veritable ocean of voices singing the refrain. The group never quite hit the high mark the opener seems to aim for, but they at least make the journey interesting.

Swinging wildly between outstanding and pedestrian, the end result of Experiments in Mass Appeal is an album not all that experimental, but also with probably very little that might satiate the public at large. All things considered, this was probably the whole point.