Approaching future pop perfection: Freezepop

2008 seems to be drawing to a close with surprising alacrity, and already i’ve started to see a number of “Best of 2008” articles appearing. Rest assured i’ll be doing my own individual pick of the year’s highlights towards the end of the month. Meanwhile, let’s turn our attention to a group whose last album was one of 2007’s best releases.

Freezepop only came to my attention earlier this year, through an episode of the latest season of The L Word, a show that features a surprisingly eclectic (and high quality) selection of music. Since then, i’ve trawled their back catalogue, and it’s been an interesting experience. To be fair, their earliest output is decidedly hit-and-miss, with emphasis on the latter of those epithets, but—and it’s an important but—nothing really bad afflicts those releases. Their first album, Freezepop Forever, released in 2001, sounds like a fairly typical J-pop offering (a Japanese track title seems to confirm the allusion), a kind of music that achieves popularity principally through downright quirkiness. It also strongly betrays Freezepop’s affiliation with the realm of computer game music; all in all, it’s just too transient and bound-up in stylistic conventions to be terribly engaging. The following year’s Fashion Impression Function is, on balance, even less engaging, but demonstrates the makings of a much more individual sound, smoothly blending electropop trappings old and new, introducing interesting structural variety and bringing new intimacy to Liz Enthusiasm’s vocals.

Their more recent output lives up to this promise. 2003’s Hi-Five My Remix is overflowing with energy, pummelling the listener through one contagious remix after another. The principal track is “Super-Sprøde”, a witty song written in homage to their fans; the disc contains two superb remixes, the “Future Bible Heroes Remix” and “Veronica Black Morpheus Remix”, both of which enlarge and improve upon the original. 2004 brought their first album of substance, Fancy Ultra•Fresh, followed up the following year with a remix EP, Maxi Ultra•Fresh, both of which rate very highly, and which i’d recommend warmly.

But it’s their most recent album, 2007’s Future Future Future Perfect (titles including words beginning with ‘F’ are obviously a theme), which is not merely their most assured and mature release to date, but also one of the very best electropop discs i’ve heard. Whereas in their earlier music Liz Enthusiasm’s vocals sounded dispassionate to the point of being robotic, here she sounds like a slightly warmer version of Client‘s Sarah Blackwood, aloof but chic. And with this comes an embracing of different methods of structural unfolding, one of which is demonstrated at the outset, in “Less Talk More Rokk”, the music slowly cranked up to speed through a gradual accelerando, something rarely heard in pop. Liberally sprinkled with faux guitar riffs, it heralds a welcome dirty analogue abrasiveness amidst all the digital cleanliness. “Frontload” is almost like an electronic version of The Pixies, its substance projected through abrupt contrasts in dynamic; it also uses starkly simple harmonies, resulting in a song of anthemic proportions, finished off with a lengthy, ebullient coda. Hints of the arcade return in “Ninja of Love”, sounding equally like a next generation “Blue Monday”; its restrained middle 8 is an interesting one harmonically, as well as falling into nicely irregular (at least, in music like this) 3-bar patterns. Prize for the most overt use of double entendre in a song must go to “Do You Like My Wang™?”, that includes such splendid lyricisms as “you cant believe i’ve kept this secret locked away … you wanna touch it, and turn it on … you know you want to use it … please be gentle, dont abuse it … i took it out for you to see…”—all of which is nicely summed up in the line, “i’ve sunk to new lows lyrically”; not quite rivalling the best tracks on the album, but like an early ‘Carry On’ movie, it’s all fun and larks, and the song’s just too catchy to hold it against them. The highlight of the album, though, is the ravishingly beautiful ballad, “Swimming Pool”; this was the track i heard on The L Word, and it stands apart from the entire rest of their output, both as their only foray into gentle (and literal) waters, and also as overwhelming proof that Freezepop are capable of real brilliance. Now, Liz Enthusiasm’s cool delivery sounds trance-like, far from aloof, lost instead in the intensity of the memories she invokes. After a brief climax, the song does the unthinkable: it effectively stops and starts all over again—and yet, it works, and works fantastically. Again harmonically utterly simple, the words “everything is perfect now” circle round and round, all the time promising a perfect cadence that is postponed again and again, as though the band don’t want the track ever to end; the effect is highly moving, and makes the arrival of the final chord overwhelming, enveloped in emotional relief and release.

The earlier releases are fittingly hard-to-find, but most are available directly from the band, via their website, including rare limited editions (and they do healthy discounts for multiple purchases). All are available via iTunes, of course, along with a brand new EP, Form Activity Motion, featuring remixes from the album, which i haven’t yet heard. The digital release will be followed up with a physical disc in the new year.

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