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Fred Frith - Gravity CD (album) cover


Fred Frith



4.02 | 59 ratings

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4 stars After hearing Fred Frith's first solo album Guitar Solos, I wasn't sure what to think. Despite being a big fan of Frith's work in various other groups, that first album, while certainly innovative and experimental, didn't strike me as particularly interesting to listen to. Despite this rather lukewarm first impression, I decided to give this album a chance after reading that Frith had described it as a "dance" album, with influences from folk and world music.

Indeed, I would say that this is a marked improvement over Guitar Solos. Infinitely more fun to listen to, there's nonetheless a wild spirit of adventure and experimentation that makes this the perfect blend of avant and accessible. There's a lot of variety on Gravity, from eastern European folk dances to chaotic and experimental soundscapes. A great album from a great musician.

"The Boy Beats the Rams" begins with a bit of a noisy blend of percussion and other sound effects before a faint, somewhat eastern sounding string part strikes up. This is joined by some rather atonal guitar and the track takes on a decidedly dissonant tone. Despite this, it's not hard to listen to at all, though it does feel more like an introduction to the rest of the album than it does a standalone track. It's still a very interesting listen, however; it's a nice avant opening to the album and a cool piece of experimental music.

"Spring Any Day Now" is a much more accessible track, with a very cheery, even catchy melody starting off immediately. A variety of wind instruments, guitars, and percussion create a very musically dense track, making the main melodies sound deceptively simple. To me this track really sounds like a sort of combination between the surf rock of the 60s and folk- dance music; it's an incredibly bizarre combination that nonetheless works.

"Don't Cry For Me" begins with the same kind of minimal percussion that began "The Boy Beats the Rams," but this track takes a more structured direction, combining a strong bass line with multiple guitar and keyboard parts to create a kind of avant-folk aesthetic. Strong melodies abound, but at the same time there's a lot of very weird arrangement that gives the music a fascinating experimental edge. The track concludes with a recording of some noisy clapping and other sound effects that transitions into the next track.

"Hands of the Juggler" is another great track that combines a lot of the sound and instrumentation of folk music with Frith's off kilter, experimental tendencies. This experimental side is perhaps more explicit than on the previous two tracks, with a middle section that features increasingly crazed percussion, and dreamy and dissonant chords. This section transitions beautifully into another eastern folk dance section, with what sounds like a violin backed by bass and, of all things, accordion. It's this instrumentation that plays the track out, finally giving way to a bizarre but strangely fitting outtro that consists of some chanting vocals and what sounds like a timpani.

This outtro makes another seamless transition into "Norrgarden Nyvla," one of my favorite tracks on the album. With one of the outright catchiest melodies I've ever heard from Frith, this track is just so cheerful and charming, in addition to being perfectly arranged that even the bizarre electric guitar solos don't detract from its accessibility. This is the poster child in my mind for great, accessible, experimental music: far less difficult than anything on Guitar Solos or any of Henry Cow's albums, "Norrgarden Nyvla" is still a great, experimental track that blends genres and mixes styles to create incredibly appealing music.

"Year of The Monkey" comes next, going back to a more explicitly experimental style. Chaotic and atonal music makes up about the first 30 seconds of the track before a keyboard part comes in that almost has a carnival vibe to it. Various string sounds and of course guitars add additional music behind the repeating keyboard motif, and eventually a noisy chorus of wind instruments takes over in a way that reminds me of some of the music on The United States of America's self titled album.

"What A Dilemma" begins with distorted, dissonant guitars pounding out a rhythmic chord pattern while other instruments solo over this background. This is probably the closest to the wild experimentation of Guitar Solos that Gravity comes, but even so it begins to take on a more standard form midway through the song, as the distorted riffs are traded in for a bass line and a more melodic guitar part. As these parts are being developed and a bit of the distortion and dissonance begin to return, the track ends, very suddenly kicking off the next piece.

"Crack In The Concrete" is another strange track, with a very avant-jazz sort of feeling compared to the folkier sound of many of the earlier tracks. It's also very short, with only about a minute and a half of bass-backed, experimental guitar music before the track comes to an end.

"Come Across" kicks off with a great, driving piano and bass part that are quickly joined by some winds and guitar. This is another of my favorite tracks on the album, by turns jazzy, cinematic, and decidedly avant-garde. Several great solos help the track set itself apart, with multiple instruments taking the front of the stage throughout the track before finally ending in a dreamy fadeout.

"Dancing in the Street/My Enemy Is a Bad Man" comes next, starting off with percussion and what is either a keyboard or a very distorted guitar playing over a somewhat noisy blend of sound effects. It's a fairly melodic piece despite its very avant, bizarre instrumentation; while at times the background noise comes close to taking over the track the melody is always at the front of the mix. When the motif switches midway through it takes on a much happier disposition, with guitar and piano cheerfully dueting in a way that recalls the carefree music of the early days of rock and roll. The track fades out as these instruments continue to play before finally ending in silence.

"Slap Dance" sounds like its name would suggest: the folk dance theme is back, though shades of atonality keep the listener ever so slightly off-balance. This motif is occasionally interrupted by a more melodic saxophone melody that gives the track a nice sense of balance between order and chaos. The bass makes another great appearance here as well, keeping the track firmly grounded rhythmically even when it's at its craziest.

"A Career In Real Estate" returns to a very folky feel, though it eschews the eastern European vibe for one far more rooted in Americana. A very loose, pitch-sliding violin part recalls to my ears Appalachian folk music, whether that is an intentional influence or not. This folky motif is alternated with a much darker, ominous, distorted guitar-led theme that very much gives the track a "dark/light" sort of melodic conflict that's very interesting to listen to. It is on this latter theme that the track ends before the last track begins.

The album ends on "Dancing in Rockville, Maryland," a very experimental sounding track without a lot that you could point to and call "melody." Bass, guitars and percussion create a noisy amalgamation of sound for the first section of the track. Eventually, however, a rather serene piano part takes center stage, and the rest of the instruments fall away, leaving only the keyboard to carry the track to its conclusion and the conclusion of the album.

This, I think, is the place to start if you want to get a feel for Frith's solo music. I would argue that this is even more approachable than a lot of Henry Cow stuff, and in my opinion it's far more interesting than Guitar Solos. A great album for fans of avant-garde music and perhaps even a good entry point for those who have found the genre daunting in the past.


VanVanVan | 4/5 |


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