Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Dark Young Hearts" (FrYars) (2009)

Take One…Take Two

For some time now there’s been an unofficial version of FrYars aka Ben Garrett’s debut proper, in fact the release date became a guessing game at one point. And, really if I wasn’t so caught up in the brilliance of this ‘raw’ version, I should have realized the obvious: changes were coming to its structure.

Changes that, quite frankly, mar the final product’s impact on me as a critic but that the average music lover will not even have noticed. For starters, the leaked version has nine tracks that do not appear on the final product, which itself brandishes four new songs. This swap is puzzling but seems a ploy to add variety to Garrett’s ingrained voice. Jarusalem is a disco-meets-bar number that snaps with a lot of surround sound but it doesn’t make Garrett a pop chameleon but, ironically, isolates him from the scene in which he should naturally connect. A Last Resort is even odder, a stab at folk-pop that doesn’t work and features cringe-worthy lines (I’m in a church/ I f-ck up my future). Morning is the type of album-ending crap that a dynamic musician like FrYars should know better to record. It’s obvious filler and he doesn’t even put much into the few lines repeated. The only one that works is Ananas Trunk Railway where his voice booms out over the music for once.

Interestingly, the tracks that didn’t make it on to the disc are the last nine songs on the leaked version. I’m not sure if there was some contractual reason but without a few of them, Dark Young Hearts only just manages to retain teeth. Gone are the melodrama of Atoms for Peace and Polystyrene which, ironically, is the musical diversity this finished product lacks. Gone is the ruthless pop brilliance of The Box, a track that obsesses wryly over death and a criminal cover-up. When Garrett tears into the final couplet it becomes the sheer bliss that Antony Hegarty hasn’t produced in years. Garrett manages to sound comfy equally in the studio as well as a pub, with his mature yet stoned vocals. The two biggest omissions though are Madeline and Horse and Man. Both tracks are among his strongest work…ever. Madeline builds upon waves of forceful pop intent and his queer voice overlap never more pronounced. Horse or Man is even more nuanced; the type of intelligent pop track that tackles you lyrically yet gets your head nodding simultaneously. Both are masterpieces and their absence weighs down on the final version of Dark Young Hearts.

What of the surviving tracks? Well, Visitors and Lakehouse aside they have all been modulated in several ways but it feels like a violent rape in several instances. Vocally, he remains intense in the brilliant perversion that is Olive Eyes yet the music is more pronounced and it leaves the track less theatrical. When one is dealing with an issue as touchy as in-family breeding (married to a man your parents raised your own brother/ you have a womb/ you shall deliver me a boy/ he’ll have my eyes/ my olive eyes) one needs to get the tone just right. And removing the clincher ender is quite pointless too, like a bad editing choice. The Ides has clearly been sung over but here Garrett sounds bored vis-à-vis the leaked version where his voice jumps delightfully all over the track.

It’s not all questionable though: Of March is filtered through an acoustic version which doesn’t lose ground to the original. It expands it in a few ways, adding a nice choral section and stretching Garrett vocally more than anything else here. The two best tracks—Benedict Arnold and Happy—are modified but the changes are barely noticed. Besides, these tracks transcend the pop genre, thus exposing the sheer genius of Garrett at work. ‘Here on your final hour/ take your shelter/ in the shower/ I’m on your side/ in this life, in this life’, rails Garrett on Benedict Arnold, in a sublime fit of crashing beats and evocative multiple vocal work. Happy is equally engrossing with its rushed urgency.

Garrett’s geeky pop sensibility has years-worth of intuition too. This is quite fresh as pop music has descended yet again into having nothing much to say (right, Pink?). Garrett brings a nerdy-level to his queer context, not the sappy sentimentality of an old queen (right, Antony Hegarty?). His outlook of music superbly blends pessimism and reality. For all the changes this is still a meticulously crafted yet subtle album that proves the process of growing up is fraught with self-loathing and questioning yourself endlessly but also that ultimate tool of triumph: reinvention.

RATING: 8/10

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