First things first:
Yes, the group is named for ex-Red Hot Chili Peppers’ guitarist John Frusciante but No, you shouldn’t expect anything evoking their namesake’s style too closely.
“Our music does not sound like that, as everybody knows,” acknowledges as singer/guitarist Big Cool.
So why the name? Simply being fans was enough.
So with that out of the way, what of the music? Big Cool describes the band as “heavy indie rock,” which surprised me somewhat because I’d just had this conversation with a friend:
Friend: How do you like the Frusciante abum?
Me: I like it!
Friend: It’s rather poppy, isn’t it?
Me: Mmm, that’s what I like about it.
So score that 2 for poppy, 1 for heavy indie rock, and 0 for Frusciante proper. Or is it? As the band sings on Tricosan: What do we have?
What leaps out at me first is the pop element - the catchy hooks and uplifting melodic aspirations of Young Life, Fog, and Noongirl are awash in it - but it is also true that the further one goes into the album, the more it bites and scratches and claws. Our Sixty has violent tendencies, an amalgam of bits and pieces tied together by a guitar that is both furious and flighty. Fill My Pain Hole is not a light or passive number by any means. Rather, it is a darker, aggressive plea for healing. When you think about it, wanting redemption/peace is not so out of place in the annals of pop music, only this one is much less scripted, much more real.
Be it dark or light moods, choppy guitar rhythms are one of the band’s distinct, recurring characteristics, as on Underworld, Tricosan, Fog, and Young Life, and an interesting contrast to the comfortable melodies that flow atop.
The aforementioned Underworld is probably the song that best represents the band, with a bit of everything on display - the rhythms, the soaring and ambitious vocals, and dirty guitar tones and atypical licks.
My favorite track may well be 1004. The band’s virtues shine brightly here, plus there is the lovely soft vocal accompaniment of Han-Wei Kuo to further elevate it. Listen to this one on nice headphones if you can. The production quality, as is true for the whole album, is tops - the bass full, round and balanced, the drums steady, the guitars judiciously layered but not overwhelming - a well-crafted song all around.
That Goes Away is a slow, lovely number that’s over a little soon. And maybe that’s the point of the song. What makes it special to me is the tasty guitar. It is understated, and while not necessarily innovative, fits the song perfectly. Whether it is Big Cool or Huei Yen (also bandmates in BHD and 昏鴉 Murky Crows) playing, there is nice guitar work throughout the album. No flashy look-at-me nonsense, but thoughtful phrases and solos that make each song - and each part of each song - better. Other stand-out moments occur on the verses of Green, Green (an odd, yet simple approach complementing what is also an odd and simple melody), and throughout Our Sixty and Tricosan. But really, you could just pick any song and be pleased.
So, revisiting the scorecard at the beginning of this review, I’m going to now say it all ends in a happy tie. The album is heavier than it first sounds, thanks to covert arrangements and production that don’t push it in one’s face. And while the music may not sound like their namesake, there is a spiritual kinship: a willingness to be unconventional within conventions, and an intelligent and creative effort to their songcraft. John Frusciante consistently challenges himself and perhaps his open mind is his greatest asset. A virtuoso without a sense of music and adventure is just a warm machine. Frusciante proper is a thoughtful, heartfelt, and skilled artist, and that’s what accounts for his successes and respect. I hear a similar approach by these men of Frusciante.
This is an album that reminds me of summer - not the sweltering hell we have at present, but the good parts of my younger days: the sense of freedom; the open, upbeat, and hopeful timbre of the season; of being in the middle of an affecting fling.
And so I say Bravo! I applaud this collection of songs: enjoyable, fun, and honest, like a good friend.