Boston’s finest return…
Emerging as one of the legendary outfits from the US synth-pop scene, Freezepop have carved out an impressive catalogue of tunes over the years, excelling in delivering a particular combo of quirky and melodic electropop.
Freezepop originally formed in 1999 at a time when grassroots electronic pop acts were rare, let alone in Boston where the band members came together. The initial lineup featured Liz Enthusiasm, The Duke of Pannekoeken (aka Kasson Crooker) and Sean T. Drinkwater. Their debut album Freezepop Forever, originally released in 2000, featured a collection of synth-pop compositions that had a charm and wit that seemed to run opposite to the perhaps dryer approach of established electronic acts. Among Freezepop’s solid arsenal of tunes were the evocative ‘Plastic Stars’, the muscular ‘Less Talk More Rokk’ and the wistful ‘Tender Lies’.
Outside of their own musical releases, Freezepop have also dipped into the worked of video game music, contributing to a range of titles which includes Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution.
The Duke later departed from Freezepop, finding it difficult to balance work duties and the commitment of being in a band. But he’s kept himself busy in more recent times with the excellent ELYXR and Symbion Project. He also still joins up with Freezepop for live outings if their paths cross.
As a result, Freezepop’s lineup was later augmented with Robert John “Bananas” Foster and Christmas Disco-Marie Sagan on board. Although the band dabbled with signing to a label, they found it more comfortable to stick to the independent route, delivering the self-released Imaginary Friends in 2010 (which went on to receive Best Album in the 2011 Boston Phoenix/WFNX Best Music Poll and Best Electronic Act in the 2011 Boston Music Awards).
Fantasizer represents Freezepop’s fifth studio album and features thirteen new compositions that manage to evolve the Freezepop sound, giving it a maturity and weight that sets it aside from previous outings. It’s also an album that’s been funded by a Kickstarter campaign, one which featured some suitably wacky rewards for fans – including a custom comic strip, painting and even a sandwich(!) outside of the usual CD and vinyl options.
“Fantasizer is about needing to be somewhere else” offers the band on the new album, “whether that’s a hedonistic purgatory, or just a new corner of comfort deep inside your own head. It is what happens when you know the world is not meeting you where you had expected, instead preferring to create an altered pseudo reality. It’s the soundtrack to the movie in your head.”
It’s an apt summing up of the themes of the album, which arrives at a time when music is more important than ever. In essence, Fantasizer embraces some superbly crafted electronic pop that offers an escape from the often grey landscape that presents itself in our current complicated culture of political unrest, Covid-19 and arguments about which Star Wars film is the best.
The album hits the ground running at speed with a superb opener in the form of ‘Queen Of Tomorrow’. A beefy synth foundation proves the perfect bed for the mesmerising vocal melodies. Lines such as “Stay close my shadow/Where we’re going/They’ll never follow” have a power that Liz Enthusiasm delivers with a surprisingly casual flair.
Following up, ‘Heat Lightning Hott’ has a technopop sheen to it. Meanwhile, ‘You’re Awesome; It’s Killing Me’ delivers some classic Freezepop wit served up in a perfect synth-pop package.
‘Anchor to the World Below’, which was the first single to appear from the album, is described as “a throwback track with a harmonic callback to early-’80s synth-pop and neon-coated melodies.” It’s a bittersweet affair that bounces between bold synth tones and a polished vocal via Liz (“Look at how I float above the world”).
Elsewhere, the title track serves up one of the album’s finest moments. ‘Fantasizer’ is a captivating narrative on what it’s like to love and lose someone, a familiar theme and yet one that can’t fail to resonate within even the coldest hearts. The clockwork rhythms and melodies build up a joyous layered pop song that makes this tune really pop out on the album.
Those themes of love and loss are carried over onto the stunning ‘The Ghost Rejoins the Living’. It’s a composition that opts for a more muted approach, but boasts emotionally-charged lines such as “Then I think of you/And the black and white returns to colour”. It’s a suitably haunting number with some inspired compositional touches, delving into the idea of activities designed to distract while also utilising some evocative phrasing (“That skipping 45’s a symphony”).
The road to Fantasizer has been a lengthy one, with the Kickstarter being established back in 2016. “We didn’t want to make some cookie-cutter album you could make on a laptop in two weeks” comments Sean Drinkwater on the album’s lengthy genesis, “We wanted to make an antidote to every antiseptic committee-created soulless void that passes for a pop record or a dance record in 2020. We wanted every second of this album to feel like ‘Wow, they’re really going for it. Because we did. We wanted this album to sit comfortably with the best things ever made in our genre, not just with our own catalog.”
But while the album finds its strengths in its electropop stylings, it also detours occasionally into synthwave territory, particularly on the lush soundscapes of ‘Memory Disappears’ or the emotional tour de force that’s ‘Heart-Rate’, the latter sounding like it escaped from some lost 80s romantic movie.
Elsewhere, there’s pulsing synth-pop joy on ‘Our Solar System’ while ‘Rare Bird’ pivots back to more quirky territory with its primary colour pop.
Ultimately, Fantasizer is an impressive body of work which, arguably, is Freezepop’s finest album to date. The more mature approach to penning songs seems natural and doesn’t rob the band of their ability to deliver witty lines – or indeed their ability to touch the heart. The compositions on this album are warm, engaging narratives that are packed with hooks and well-crafted electronic flourishes.
In a year that’s seen a wealth of accomplished electronic pop albums, Fantasizer seems somehow to be way ahead of the pack.
Fantasizer is out now.
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