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Liam Frost and The Slowdown Family

Gig Review
University of London Union, London
28 Sep 2006

Buy "Mourners of St Paul's" by Liam Frost and The Slowdown Family at Amazon >>

Liam FrostLiam Frost was really drunk during his performance, but it didn't seem to slow him down. His shaggy hair was dripping with sweat as he played his final song, Mourners of St. Paul's. On the album, this song is a bit dodgy, but the live performance was spot on. This improvement was helped in no small part by a reserved audience that, informed that this was the last song, suddenly became much more lively. Taking swigs from a bottle of Jim Beam bourbon, he broke the stupor that most of the crowd had been labouring under.

Frost has let himself go a bit. Publicity photographs and fans' loving recollections still have him looking young and svelte. He still looks young, of course; it's simply that his youthful frame is now draped with extra padding, to put it politely. His clear voice still rings out, and he can still hit notes with a finality and certainty that are a marvel to watch. It's merely that now the voice and body are somewhat incongruous.

The gig at the University of London Union was to celebrate the release of Show Me How The Spectres Dance, the first full-length album from the Manchester-bred folkie. Show Me strikes an interested balance. On one listen, it sounds like usual British folk fare; its instrumentation is as familiar as the local pub. On the next, the tinges of angst and mournful youth become almost painful. All in all, it's clear that a huge influence lies with Nebraska-born Conor Oberst, a.k.a. Bright Eyes.

The combination is not without appeal. The best song on the album, If Tonight We Could Only Sleep, plays on the strengths of both styles with aplomb. The gig capitalized upon this, with Frost's voice cutting through the background effortlessly. The melancholy words and melodies take full advantage of Liam Frost's voice, which is thankfully less whiny than Bright Eyes. The slow build-up of the track highlights the vaguely ominous lyrics, with a soft bass drum thump in the background picking out the tempo while plucked violin strings add to the dreary atmosphere. Besides this, lines such as �But in one fell swoop/every doctor lifts you and rids you clear of me/I will burn bright through the early hours/so darling leave me be�, are delivered with a resignation that suits the song as a whole.

That said, it's quickly evident that sad songs are more Frost's forte in terms of recorded music. The album's happy songs were excellent when performed live, but fall short on the album. The majority of songs on the album are at least somewhat sombre affairs. Those that aren't, such as She Painted Pictures, are the low points. She Painted Pictures is not a terrible song, but its treacle tone isn't helped by Frost's rote recitation of the simple lyrics. On these happy songs the debt owed to Oberst becomes most obvious and the album stumbles into the same pitfalls that trouble Bright Eyes. In the same way that it is always easier to mock something than to honestly praise it, Frost's pleasant songs can, at times, ring false.

The entire album, sad and happy songs together, is at times overproduced. On some songs, this works out in the end. In the crowded amphitheatre, overproduction merely added to the boom of the Powell stacks at either end of the stage. Recorded, on the other hand, overproduction simply obscures and muddies a song. The aforementioned Mourners of St Paul's has precisely the sort of well-orchestrated boom that this level of production works toward.

-Nicholas Cater

Buy "Mourners of St Paul's" by Liam Frost and The Slowdown Family at Amazon >>

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