“Hello, and welcome to the rest of your life”, the opening line from our narrator, a child-like English voice whose name may or may not be Alice, introducing us to Day and Age, the latest recording from Frost*, and their first full-length effort in five years. I won’t reveal what else Alice has to say, but it is rather less welcoming.
So begins the eleven-plus minute title track, and according to the band, the defining song of this album. Spoken introductions over, the music starts with sinister chords, and the beat kicks off at a pace, before one of those Frost* melodies which instantly gets into your brain arrives with John Mitchell’s vocals. Further in, his chorus refrain adds to the foreboding by sounding not accidentally like “living in a dying age”.
It’s brave to open the album with such a long song (and it even has a fade out with some intriguing widdly synth), but the track is powerful enough and drives along at a pace that makes it feel like half that. It does pull into the station around the seven-and-a-half minute mark, where the beat drops and atmospheric voices permeate, before rising up again with uplifting sounds and a couple of Jem Godfrey vocals, then we are back to the melody of the beginning. Instant Frost* classic?
Continuing from the last full album, 2016’s Falling Satellites, the band – which was originally a Jem Godfrey creation way back in 2004 – is further still very much a collaborative effort. Frost* is now a core of three members consisting of keyboardist and vocalist Godfrey, with guitars and vocals from John Mitchell and Nathan King on bass, keyboards and backing vocals. Godfrey has stated in the past his being uncomfortable in the role of (I quote) “singer/front man/keyboard player/principal songwriter/principal cheque writer”, therefore it feels natural to me that the gregarious John Mitchell, no mean singer/front man/keyboard player/song writer himself (…not sure about his cheque writing skills) has become more of the co-frontman as time goes on, and he is the main vocalist on most of this album.
In September 2019, Godfrey and Mitchell packed themselves off to Helford in Cornwall for a week to write the album. A friend assures me this is a very nice area, so further writing and recording sessions were then carried out in a converted coastguard tower in Dungeness, East Sussex. Nathan King was involved in this part of the writing and recording so was treated to the sight of a nuclear power station in January. King has commented on the darkness of the tracks recorded, including second track and lead ‘single’ Terrestrial. The song contains plenty of ‘Frosty’ atmospheric studio trickery and a complex drum pattern, led again by vocals from Mitchell. There‘s a short keyboard solo here, but apart from that there are no real solo pieces on any of the tracks. There’s a lot going on in each song and the solos don’t seem to be missed.
Those looking for some Godfrey vocal action are rewarded on Waiting for the Lie which has some beautiful reverbing piano and layered strings, and stands as a bit of a break from the punch of the opening two tracks.
The band have opted to use guest drummers for this record, Craig Blundell having departed in 2019 with the band’s good wishes. The punishing beats of track one certainly match Blundell, but I am not party to which musician guests on what track. You can play spot the drummer with a choice of Kaz Rodriguez (credits include Chaka Khan and Josh Groban), Darby Todd (who has worked with The Darkness and Martin Barre) and the person I’m most familiar with, Pat Mastelotto, credited as having worked with Mr. Mister and King Crimson, but more known to me as the drummer on XTC’s Oranges and Lemons album. I won’t spoil your game too much but Mastelotto definitely thumps the drums on album closer Repeat To Fade.
Further album highlights include Kill the Orchestra, which is another epic at nine-minutes-plus, effectively the first part of the closing of the album as this and Repeat blend into each other, with similar motifs across both, and snatches of the opening melody of Day and Age. The album ends with Mitchell screaming into the distance as we are washed up in a mess of white noise, and a whisper to end.
Most intriguing is The Boy Who Stood Still. This one has Godfrey adding occasional vocals but it is predominately actor Jason Isaacs narrating a piece about a young boy who has special abilities, and Jason knows all about those. The drumming throughout this track, especially the complex rhythms at the end, deserve a mention. I actually thought it was John Mitchell narrating, have a listen to Airlock by Lonely Robot and compare.
To sum up the album then, do I like it? I have to say a resounding yes, with the title track being so strong there could have been a danger of the quality dropping off, but the album is well-paced. Clocking at just under 54-minutes and eight tracks, the album is a good length. Personally I have no problem with its bright, layered production (as I said, I like Oranges and Lemons), and it is hardly a surprise on a Frost* album, but some may find it too ‘in your face’ for that length of time. There was a thought by some that last year’s 13 Winters box set/career retrospective was closing a chapter, with the band moving in a different direction – not really, so I don’t think this will convert any naysayers.
The band deserve a lot of credit for what they have achieved in 15 years, and this latest release stands up in comparison with what has gone before, with the usual high levels of playing, humour and Englishness as expected. The phrase ‘enjoy yourselves’ appears throughout the album in ironic tones – creating this record I think Frost* certainly did, as I did when listening to it.
01. Day And Age (11:49)
02. Terrestrial (5:13)
03. Waiting For The Lie (4:31)
04. The Boy Who Stood Still (7:33)
05. Island Life (4:14)
06. Skywards (4:13)
07. Kill The Orchestra (9:27)
08. Repeat to Fade (6:14)
Total Time – 53:14
Jem Godfrey – Keyboards, Railboard (Chapman Stick-type thing), Vocals
Nathan King – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
John Mitchell – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
~ With Guests:
Kaz Rodriguez – Drums
Darby Todd – Drums
Pat Mastelotto – Drums
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: U.K.
Formats: Ltd. Ed. 2CD (including an instrumental version of the album), Gatefold 2LP+CD (Coloured Vinyl), Digital
Date of Release: 14th May 2021
– Milliontown (2006)
– Experiments In Mass Appeal (2008)
– Falling Satellites (2016)
– Others EP (2020)
– Day And Age (2021)