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Fred Frith - Gravity CD (album) cover


Fred Frith



4.02 | 59 ratings

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4 stars It's hard to actually review Fred Frith for the very first time. Probably one of the biggest geniuses of the avant-garde field, Frith manages to successfully both be a composer, a songwriter, and an improviser. Most who do enjoy his music will enjoy the more composer/ songwriter side. Frith his the uncanny ability to write very complex tunes. But the great thing about him is that he manages to mesh great pop sensibilities to his music without making them at times absolutely irresistible. This album is the epitome of Frith's pop sensibilities- one of his most accessible and fun albums, though very complex, at times dissonant, at times unnerving, and many times beautiful.

The first side here was actually recorded with "famous" RIO band Samla Mammas Manna, while the other side was recorded with US Canterbury-influenced band The Muffins, along with other dudes such as former Henry Cow bandmate and octopus drumming epic man Chris Cutler! Both sides are filled with what would become for me, Frith's easily recognizable melodies. Mad fun, always crazy, jumpy, angular, and complex. The album starts off with "The Boy Beats The Ram" which I feel is a bit of a bizarro ride of tribal drums with violins and weird guitars. Fred Frith is the master of guitar sound and his treble-y sound and distortion sounds are a big part of what makes this album great. Frith's distortion is abrasive, thick, while his clean sound is sharp, deadly precise, no funny business. The tune could turn some people off, which is funny, considering the absolutely delightful dance-pop number that comes right after "Spring Any Day Now"- which is easily one of Frith's most memorable tracks. Jazzy, kinda bluesy, with a horn section that will get you to shake you glut. Never mind that much of it is in 5/4 and never mind the weird time signature bits. It is Frith at his most charming, his most fun. It is nice to see the contrast in the first two songs as I feel it is what makes the album so entertaining- it's fun, it's humorous, lighthearted, though always a bit off, always keeping you on your toes, always taking pop music and meshing it a bit to make you slightly uncomfortable, slightly nervous.

I know these tracks so well that I can speak about each for hours, dismantling the little bits. "Don't Cry For Me" is delightfully annoying. I'd never been so happy to get a headache. Frith simplifies the melody so much, that it's almost a fly in your ear, pretty much only three notes. And along with the groovy fun bass line, it's so addicting yet so delightfully annoying that you find yourself unsure whether to dance or turn the music off! That melody can drive anyone insane, but once you get accustomed to the melody and the song, it becomes plain fun. Skipping now to "Norrgarden Nyvla" which is probably Frith's most well known tune. That is because the melody is so uplifting and unforgettable it's only natural. Frith's guitar with the piano in the background make it so uplifting. The 15/8 time signature is used so well here- the bar always ends in a sort of cliff hanger, it makes the song it much more nervous, like it is always about to fall but never does. "Year of the Monkey" picks up exactly where "Norrgarden Nyvla" left off, and again uses many layers of recording to attack the listener from many angels. The looping piano line is so cool, that with everything around it you feel like your in a smoky saloon filled with surrealists and philosophers. The recorders and the tribal drums are a good time too. The feeling as this album goes along, is that it retains the former dissonance seen in the first track. The weird guitars come back, the bizarre funky bass and the constant weird, kind of jazzy, kind of tribal drums. In "What a Dilemma" you get absolutely stormed with Frith's layers of dissonant guitars.

And then towards the end, it all becomes good fun! The tracks retain their poppy nature, their groove, while of course still being a bit of a parody on dance music. Towards the end, Frith even covers "Dancing In the Street". It ain't perfect, but the great rhythm behind it and the fun keyboard sound make it worthwhile. Suddenly it almost feels like the Residents. A slightly off melodic delivery makes the song the song feel as if Frith is actually consciously making the decision that he's interpreting the world of popular music through his eyes, he's translating it into his own musical world.

And that's what makes this album great- it is an Expressionist take on popular music and popular culture. Frith's take on avant-garde music is always challenging, but it is many times fun, and more interestingly, socially conscious, which make the music make sense, and give the album it's own great sense humor.

You want Frith, you start here.

frippism | 4/5 |


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