One of the things that makes the indie music scene so vibrant is the amount of collaboration its artists engage in. One way or another, bands become intertwined and albums can easily become the project of a whole community. Everyone’s a fan of one another, so everyone wants to make music together.
One of the more recent examples of this is Frontperson, a project formed by Cathryn Calder of The New Pornographers and Mark Andrew Hamilton (aka Woodpigeon). To call the combination a strange match-up is an understatement; The New Pornographers specialize in eighties-tinged power pop, while Woodpigeon creates guitar-based music with a pronounced folk influence. Their music couldn’t be further apart, at least in terms of what we consider to be indie; until the music came out, it would have been nearly impossible to imagine how it might have sounded.
We don’t have to wonder any longer; Frontperson’s debut album, Frontrunner, is out now for all to hear. So how is it?
I mean that sincerely; it’s filled with good tunes and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I just don’t think it’s going to stick with me. There’s nothing about it that’s overly exciting. I had to play the album back over and over as I wrote this just to find specific moments that stuck out.
The music itself, surprisingly, is a fairly organic blend of Calder’s synth-pop style and Hamilton’s folksy roots, but it never sounds too much like either band. It’s definitely its own sound: a vaguely somber affair with occasional, well-placed electronic elements that create a unique atmosphere.
While the blend works well for the whole record, there are some moments where it really stands out. “Long Night” is a plaintive, slow-burning ballad that puts Calder’s luscious vocals front and centre with some incredible harmony work. The instrumentation slowly transforms, beginning with just Calder’s voice and an acoustic guitar, then incorporating a full band and some synth pads. The transition is seamless and gives the piece a creative energy that’s a little lacking elsewhere on the album.
“He Follows Me” is another standout, a quieter and slower affair than the rest of the album. It feels more pensive than the rest of the record, defined by reverb-drenched guitar and a bridge section that showcases how wonderfully Calder’s voice blends with Hamilton’s.
As good as these songs are though, a large part of why they stand out is because they break up the sound of the album. Most of the other tracks blur together without anything that distinguishes them. The album has a nice sound, but I found it very difficult to point to specific moments in defence of that. This, for lack of a better term, is mood music, like that of Pink Floyd or Arcade Fire. You’re supposed to listen to the whole thing and let the atmosphere envelop you.
But Frontrunner doesn’t quite manage that. As much as Funeral or Dark Side of the Moon work as complete units of music, the individual elements hold up on their own as well. Each song on those albums is a specific piece of the puzzle, but those pieces work alone just as well. This just isn’t quite true of Frontperson’s debut album; a couple of songs stand out, but it’s hard to tell the rest apart. That’s fine if you’re just going to put the album on in the background, but you’re not going to be rewarded for attentive listening. Even the lyrics (which Woodpigeon and The New Pornographers both excel at individually) are all but indistinguishable, with nothing in particular standing out.
As I said before, this album is fine. It’s an enjoyable listen and there are some lovely moments in there, but it won’t grab you in any big way. There’s promise, though: I hope Calder and Hamilton find the time to collaborate as Frontperson again, because they could make something remarkable the next time around.