This live acoustic recording conveys the gentle beauty of Simon and Garfunkel, the tensile strength of the Velvet Underground, and an honesty all it's own. The dazzling vocals and instantly hummable tunes are set in a sophisticated song cycle.
period. is a live recording of an acoustic performance, different in so many ways from Frisbie's acclaimed 2000 debut The Subversive Sounds Of Love (Hear Diagonally), a record spotlighting "one of the best and most ambitious pop bands in America." (Salon.com) Greg Kot of The Chicago Tribune called TSSoL "the power pop album of the year." With front men Liam Davis and Steve Frisbie and drummer Zack Kantor each writing songs, "Frisbie show[ed] no signs of running short on inspiration." (Jim DeRogatis, Chicago Sun Times)
But in 2001, Kantor's ongoing struggle with bipolar disorder deepened. After a year of sporadic participation, he stepped away from the band in 2002. In early 2003, the remaining members of Frisbie recorded Kantor's unreleased music -- with his blessing, but without him.
period. is an inspiring collection of songs: the lovely and romantic "Whirlwind", the McCartneyesque "Another Story", the playful soul of "Pick a Flower". "Blowin' Up and Tellin' Lies" is a stirring opus, while "Novocaine" is utterly insinuating. And even in an acoustic format, Frisbie raises the roof; "Girlfriend" and "Mourning Machines" reach crescendos that are simply devastating.
The simplicity of the palette on period. - bass, two voices, two acoustic guitars -- creates a kind of transparency. Kantor's material achieves a special resonance when heard as one album; songs contain similar snatches of words, or return to specific themes and ideas. The triumphant, almost-Broadway chorus of the album-opener "Comes-n-goes" is gently reprised as a coda for the last track "Novocaine." Frisbie and Davis belt the opening chorus like an exhortation; at the album's end, they sing softly, reverently, hearing the truth of those words for themselves. With their expressive range and the empathy in their performance, Davis and Frisbie give voice to the soul in Kantor's songs.
"Don't sweat that sinking feeling
That it's all gone wrong.
Just learn a couple chords and
Write a little song".
-Z. Kantor, "Mourning Machines"
Tempest In a D Chord
The 11 songs that comprise Frisbie's second full-length outing period. are at times reminiscent of both sophisticated prog-rock song cycles and thematic Broadway scores, but remain firmly rooted in the 3-chord 3-minute pop paradigm they honor and build upon. They are also among the best arguments for CDs over vinyl-not for any value in the medium itself, but because the tangle of self-referential details make this piece an effective one-act play; no needle-scratch flipside intermission required. These songs form a landscape of beautiful decay and popular culture flotsam, each one an elemental force, like found art - littered with colloquial epithets, Jefferson Starship and Nick Lowe and Ozzie lyrical nods, and children's TV characters, reclaimed and woven together into a Mobius strip of the distressed observations that come of too much observation, yet done so deftly that the listener is still bound in the sweet chords and stuck on the barbed hooks that marked Frisbie's debut The Subversive Sounds of Love. But period., while not the boisterous first outing of SSoL, is also not self-absorbed storytelling: it's the aural rendering of that all-consuming question, the one your mind wanders around and around until you can no longer remember what you were asking yourself, though you've worn a deep trench of circular logic. If you did catch it, it might at first sound something like a shouted defiant "Why!?" But if you listened more closely, you would hear the dark undercurrent of the more treacherous whispered "Why not?", a spectral finger beckoning you out of the sunshine and into the shadows.
Songwriter and former drummer Zack Kantor's probing, confessional lyrics are here lovingly floated in the warm bath of a live acoustic setting, the stripped down 3-piece (guitars and bass) captured clearly and artfully from the board. The well-matched vocal team of Steve Frisbie and Liam Davis are more than up to the challenge of this at times aggressive, at times contemplative drama. Where Kantor's lyrics may spin vertiginously from the pop canon, the singers' interpretations spin a gossamer light rein around them: Frisbie's pure falsetto rides the updraft of a chaotic mid-song culmination in "Blowin' Up," while Davis' honeyed tenor coats the quiet chorus of "Whirlwind." Though both are talented singers in their own rights, the combination of their voices unleashes a harmonic force that can hush a room so the only other sound is that of hearts breaking.
Buoyed by the sinuous and primal flow of Eddie Carlson's bass, Frisbie and Davis do not sing so much as they are propelled down a stream of consciousness: past glittering reflective pools like "Whirlwind" and down the burbling pop joys of "Another Story" and "Pick a Flower"; over the rocky foreboding of "Comes and Goes," "Free in C Minor" and "Girlfriend," and headlong into the emotional maelstrom and catharsis of "Mourning Machines," before the parting shot of "Novocaine" kicks in and floats the listener back to the beginning: a coda, a reprise, and a summation-period.
Both the musical details and the wild whitewater rides that garnered Frisbie rave reviews for their past live shows appear here in abundance. Pop lovers will be happy with the practiced sheen and instant hummability of these songs, but are still rewarded by repeat listens yielding increasing depth. A driving Hollies-esque groove in "I Know What's In Store" ratchets up onto a joyful pyramid of "yeah!" before a flourish of rapid-fire guitar leaves the listener breathless keeping up, a race for the perfect 3 minute song. Conversely, the segue to the following ballad "Blowin' Up" brings us back to earth briefly, only to be taken up in the twists of S. Frisbie's intimate narrative voice as it drifts into his higher register, where Davis takes over on a more ominous tone-like watching a kite tail ascend a blue summer sky and catching sight of thunderclouds. Even the simple recall of lyrics in different songs and keys makes these songs familiar by the end of the disc, but also relates a moody, impressionistic search for meaning- surely a needle in a haystack, but one viewed kaleidoscopically under the different lights of a waning day. These patterns of dark and light define the shifting vision and time-lapse passion of Kantor's protagonist; you can imagine the elements swirling past as he stands still, trying to grab them and force them into some kind of sense, alternately sunlit and drenched in pain, until the relative peace of night blooms around vibrating Van Gogh stars.
This is not your mama's June/croon/honeymoon pop music. The tidal honesty of period. confirms what journalist Red Smith once said: "There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." Far harder is the subtlety that Frisbie's period. achieves so completely: to make that outpouring a compelling celebration, one that sweeps the willing listener along and allows the white-knuckle experience of weathering the rapids, but then the blessed relief of surfacing - gulping, gasping, splashing, wild-eyed; laughing our way back from behind the waterfall.