A lot of ardent music nerds have an album that was the first one they found by themselves without the recommendation of an older sibling, a friend or a teacher (I had a teacher who extolled the virtues of Sonic Youth and I was one of few in the class that bothered to listen), one that induces some kind of special pride in making their own discovery.
I remember reading a review in the NME of ‘Standards’ by Tortoise that described it in a way that just made it sound really good, despite the relatively uninspiring 7/10 score it received. Hearing that there was a band that was fusing strange electronics with jazz and made Radiohead “look like desperate popstars” sounded intriguing. At the time I was completely new to jazz and this seemed like it could be an interesting gateway. When I listened to it I began to appreciate that there doesn’t have to be verses and a chorus, a discernible structure, or really have to really go anywhere. Sometimes just a feeling, an interesting texture or atmosphere, is all you need in music.
In a round about way this brings us to Frost AKA Dale Frost, a South East based drummer who previously released four track EP ‘Recast’ on the ever reliable Unlabel. He has followed this up with a full length album ‘Until It Makes Sense To You” on his own imprint MBF records. It’s a mathy exploration of electronic loops and polyrhythms mixed with live drums like the glitchy soundtrack to a retro futuristic movie.
Opener “Scrolling” is a slow building piece based upon a two note synth bassline that is joined by electronic vibraphone sounds that become more and more detailed while oscillating synths and choir voice chords fill the spaces in-between. It abruptly stops to make way for the super glitchy “Rattle”, the first exercise to flex Frost’s tight intricate drumming muscles. It trips up over itself and pings from speaker to speaker like a hyperactive electronic Don Caballero, or Palm without the vocals.
The almost dub of “Ripple” follows. It has another two note bassline, which echoes that of the opener, and provides a sparser approach to the drums with otherwise just a delayed twinkling keyboard for company. The drums get jazzier following a pulsating cue and the result is quite hypnotic. “Cluster Shuffle” verges on funky with its great synth bass line, but progresses into polyrhythms that lie somewhere between Battles “Mirrored” and Steve Reich’s ‘Music For 18 Musicians”.
There are moments of respite from the drums like “Flicker”, a meditative piece that consists of two xylophones syncopating.
The cartoonish “Slippery Bricks”, stands out with its bizarre high pitched vocal “uh”s, tight clipped drums and glockenspiel pings which intersect long wandering synth notes and flute sounds. It all sounds strangely organic, almost like electronic bird chatter.
The stretched out warbling synths of ’“Blackcurrant Stretch”, provide temporary respite although this builds towards one of the more frantic moments on the album towards its end.
Closer “Clitheroe” is perhaps the closest we get to full blown synth pop, somewhere in the realm of the ethereal instrumental works of Upset The Rhythm favourites Bamboo.
‘Until It Makes Sense To You’ feels very much like it was made by a drummer (well it was, right?). Although there are clear melodic structures in play, they feel like they are there to serve a rhythmic purpose and a mood. There is a very singular vision. The production is tight and vibrant, and there are some sublime moments (especially “Cluster Shuffle” and “Slippery Bricks”).
While the album as a whole works well and is certainly an enjoyable listen it also begs the question of what Frost might do in collaboration with someone wilder and more free in their approach.
“Until It Makes Sense To You” is out on 12” vinyl on 13th March via MBF Records.
You may enjoy this if you like: Don Caballero, Battles, Tortoise, Steve Reich
Listen and pre-order here: