I like to think my music taste is quite wide ranging. Yes, I major on progressive rock and metal but I have a love of all music that is good. When something new comes along there is always a tendency to try and place it in a convenient genre, it is as if we don’t like something that will not fall nicely into a pre-determined classification. But sometimes music comes along that refuses to be categorised and likes to take influence from many genres interests. Whether this becomes a jumble of sounds that clash against each other and grate or whether they blend into a coherent whole depends entirely on the musicians involved and their skill and flexibility.
Nashville’s Froskull are said to produce music that has a wild expressiveness and a ‘pan-genre’ feel even though they are nothing short of a fastidious progressive rock band. Their sound emotes with the average listener whilst provoking more particular music listeners to lend an ear. Previously named ‘Stephen Rockford Hammond Band’ Froskull is the new name for composer, singer and guitarist Stephen Hammond’s current line up featuring Jason Schond (bass), Brett Hammond (guitar) and Adam Dennis (drums). A self-titles release Froskull hallmarks the band’s technical eloquence, dynamic caprice and aggressively cosmopolitan style. So, from the marketing spiel we can take it that we are going to listen to something a bit different, let’s hope it glorifies the band instead of grating against the ears,
In a change from the norm for a progressive rock release, all eleven tracks on the album are under four minutes long. This could prove to be a boon or a bind dependant on the quality of the music but things start out exceedingly well with opener A Thousand Years. A dainty introduction breaks out into an inspired off kilter guitar riff and excellent rhythm section. The vocals are nicely harmonised on the chorus and the whole song has joyous feel to it. It is intricate but accessible and has alt-rock vibe to it. To be fair, the vocals on the verse do seem a tad forced but this is only a very minor complaint on what is an excellent introduction to the album. Wait seems to be a much more mainstream proposition with some stadium rock inspired guitar segueing into a chilled out ambient song. Then you are hit by a dose of electronica full of emotive power as computer game lasers fire across the bows. It is a real touch of inventiveness with the halting vocals and percussive effects. Acoustic inspired Alabaster has a serious Rush influence to it. The distorted guitar playing digs deep into your psyche and the whole track is an instrumental tour-de-force as it ebbs and flows between gentle wistfulness and chaotic endeavour. The shortness of the tracks seems to be a clever choice at this point in proceedings, leaving you wanting more rather than wishing the songs would come to a close.
A piece of jazz/prog infusion Should Have Known almost seems too clever for its own good but it is a intelligent piece of songwriting that nicely meanders along playing gleefully with your aural sensors. A touch of free-form jazz meets progressive inventiveness methinks. Now the first of four instrumental interludes, Bardo 1 is actually quite mysterious and almost sinister in its composition. Maybe space rock from the Arthur C Clarke School of seriousness? The Road to Sto-vo-kor is a mini saga. It is an epic fantasy journey compressed into three minutes of intense progressive flavour, from the halls of the mountain gods (or maybe just Stephen Hammond’s over-active imagination). An eight bit computer game soundtrack with added impetus, Bardo 2 marches across the soundwaves like an imperial army,
Report From Ganymede starts all laid back and casual with cool acoustic guitar before the vocals kick in, hard edged yet melancholy. A more openly progressive track with hints of experimentation, there is a narrative feel to the song. The odd time signatures and strident rhythms do give a seventies spaced out feel in places but the delicious guitar note always keeps things on the straight and narrow. This more traditional progressive rock side of Froskull continues into Paramatman with an electronic inspired introduction that moves into a nicely judged acoustic guitar and vocal section that reminds me a bit of Kings X. The vocals again do seem a bit strained in places but the overall feel is definitely emanating from the traditional school of progressive rock. Bardo 3 is a short story converted into a soundscape. The intro is very sci-fi and it then becomes almost choral with the harmonised vocal.
Perihelion takes us on another journey. The discordant keyboards leech into a rhythm that is surely Caribbean in its origins before taking on a reggae/ska beat. The scope of this band is hugely ingenious and it is very rare that they drop the baton as they play with different musical styles and eccentric ideas. This song flies all over the place without ever losing its roots. The album comes to an end with the heavy electronic of Bardo 4 which appears to be a homage to Jean Michel Jarre and closes this release with a little bit of inventiveness.
Is Froskull an enjoyable random journey through imaginary audio worlds or a jumbled up melting pot of madness? Although it does veer dangerously close to over-indulgence occasionally, overall I am impressed by the musical skill and endless creativity on show. Reining in that maverick spirit would be a mistake though as that is what makes this one of the more eclectic and enjoyable releases I’ve heard this year. I for one will be interested to see what they come up with next.