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Frost* - Experiments in Mass Appeal CD (album) cover

EXPERIMENTS IN MASS APPEAL

Frost*

 

Neo-Prog

3.63 | 229 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

LiquidEternity
Prog Reviewer
5 stars To be perfectly honest, even as a convinced fan of the first Frost* release, before hearing this album I had every intention of giving it most likely a three star rating, perhaps four if it were impressive. And here now it's getting five.

On paper, this seems a rather dangerous way for a band to go. Jem Godfrey, a notable songwriter in the pop genre, turns to prog to exorcise his wiggles and get some of his virtuosic talent out there. That's Milliontown, an album built on triumphant and wild-hearted noodling that ranks right up there with the famous excesses of many other progressive bands (Dream Theater, Yes, and so forth). In essence, Milliontown does not sound like a musician wanting to venture into prog to impress everyone but rather more to simply snub the genre he'd been making a living on. Well, on the heels of that project comes the unexpected album Experiments in Mass Appeal. This time, instead of turning to excessive prog as a refuge from the simplicity of pop, Jem is turning away from traditional prog to avoid the pitfalls of Milliontown: noodling, bombastic passages, zombies. Of course, he doesn't succeed on all those levels, exactly. Stay tuned. What Experiments in Mass Appeal is, though, is music that is definitely progressive while not being built on odd time signatures, terribly long compositions, hours of soloing and instrumental dinkery, or anything remotely connected to Lord of the Rings. But at the same time, in no way is this a pop album (though the track Toys is structured similarly). Intense dynamics from loud to quiet, from slow to fast, from pretty to pretty strange all turn this album into a completely different animal than exists anywhere else in the pop or neo-prog world.

The music is definitely more down-to-earth, band-oriented fare, though that mostly only in comparison with Frost*'s debut. Instead of focusing on the solos and instrumentals here, Jem creates music that is very much aimed at creating beautiful, catchy melodies. Usually this formula is dangerous. A neo-prog band backing off the proggy instrumentals, cutting down to shorter songs, trying to be more band-oriented, trying to focus on melodies? History has taught us that this occurrence often leads to a completely straightforward, barely progressive release that struggles to please either the fans of prog or of rock. This is not at all the case with Frost* and Experiments in Mass Appeal. Rather, in the end, it seems to me that Experiments in Mass Appeal almost has more in common musically with mid- to late-70s Zappa than with IQ, even though two of the five members come from that act. Except this album has really nothing in connection with Zappa, either. It stands on its own, with a very unique identity among its peers and contemporaries.

The music begins quietly with the title track in the form of a heartbeat and some simple guitar and piano. The music simmers quietly like this for a few minutes before it truly explodes into what Frost* really is made of. New prime vocalist Dec Burke is blessed with quite a set of pipes and a range that adds a lot of classic punch and removes a lot of boy band flavor from the mix. The whole song, including the guitar solo re-miked through a children's toy and an outro backed by a giant choir of Hungarians exists as a startling exposition both of the unique style of Jem and the powerful sound of Dec. Welcome to Nowhere continues the flair of the first tune, bouncing likewise from soft (in the vein somewhat of Milliontown's Snowman) to mad in very sudden shifts. This time, instead of a massive band sound filling out the loudness, a heavy riff in almost metal fashion forms the non-choral intense portions. Again, Dec stands at the front of the band, belting out another catchy melody. A third track, this time a fully-loud rocker called Pocket Sun, blends obtuse harmonies with some of the most interesting and obnoxiously contentious drumming to be heard from Andy Edwards to date. And it's about time travel. Saline promises beauty and emotion in a much more laid-back, personal manner. Essentially the album's ballad, it features some creative song changes and perhaps some of the most impassioned performance of Dec's anywhere on the album.

Dear Dead Days is certainly, however, the die-hard prog fan's track. It's buried in synths and arpeggios and creepiness much like something off of Milliontown. This song does not spare much time in grabbing its listener by whatever it can and dragging you forward. A startling (and again, somewhat metal) prechorus introduces another catchy chorus. Snippets and spots of instrumental madness push the track forward, and it ends with a sudden absence of itself and a rather confusing presence of Falling Down. Begun without a segue but not connected at all, this track is much softer overall than its predecessor. Powerful interconnections of voices hearkening back to Saline form the complex chorus structure. Also, this song has the album's longest instrumental portion: very nearly two minutes long. Most of that is a massive keyboard solo that simultaneously proves that Jem is both as talented as Wakeman or Rudess or Emerson and has enough style in his performance to actually give him a reason to do an epic keyboard solo in the middle of a song that has nothing to do with keyboard solos. This track, too, ends abruptly. You/I is a quick little filler of a track that features just Jem's vocals and piano and a bit of what's on his mind. While on its own mostly worthless, it gives the listener a chance to breathe before the last two tracks--a very important thing indeed.

Next comes the pop song Toys, a song barely over three minutes and completely self-contained. As far as prog goes, there doesn't seem to be a lot going on here. The vocals are firing almost the whole time, and the structure is very much verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus x2. However, the true genius of Jem is perfectly showcased here: not only does he not spend lots of time in the song playing nonessential parts, but he packs an intense amount of music into a particularly strong (and deviously catchy) track. There is not a weak second at all in this song, and that is a very impressive feat for any songwriter, no matter the genre. The track blows itself out, and the final song begins. Wonderland is, it must be noted, not quite six minutes long. Harrowing sounds turn the opening piano into a haunting tune, and this exciting, majorly improvised, and keyboard-blasted tune moves itself (with a lot of vocals again from Jem and John). Wonderland is the most Milliontown-esque track on Experiments in Mass Appeal, partly helped by the fact that it, too, happens to be about zombies. Subtle yet impossible keyboards blast this song shut. That leaves time for a bit of silence, a few noises, and a hidden track! Surprise! Or, it would be a surprise if everyone wasn't already expecting a sixteen minute epic here. And do we get a wild, noodly song here where Jem and the boys cut loose? No. Instead, we get a psychedelic, somewhat Phil Collins song that moves slowly very powerfully. An absolute surprise, so I'll leave it at that.

This album on paper (or computer screen or whatever) seems to look like it will be a major let-down, a loss of the proggy fun that was the band's debut. It's not. Instead, it handily surpasses the first in terms of identity, energy, focus, and melody. Definitely one of the top releases of 2008. And sorry for the painfully long review. It happens.

LiquidEternity | 5/5 |

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