Review Summary: Frost* leans much more into their electronic and symphonic tendencies for an uneven EP portraying its origins as B-sides to a previous album, but it maintains strong melody and production throughout that elevates the package.
One of the difficulties of a critic is reconciling personal interpretation with explicit artistic direction, and as someone playing through Persona 5 again, it can be frustrating to see that play out when your presence is peripheral to that of everyone else who wants an opinion on a piece of media. Suffice to say, I still love Falling Satellites to pieces four years later; there's just nothing else like it. But even I have to concede that I don't have much of an argument for others finding pomposity where I find grandiosity, and it's difficult to discern how lofty the album truly is, as the existence of this EP proves. Others is assembled from B-sides and unfinished songs form during the FS sessions, apparently as part of an initial idea for a double album, before finally being finished four years later.
In all honesty, it is very difficult to see how many of these songs could have really stood with the rest of the album that actually came to be, mostly because Falling Satellites is incredibly driven by electronic influences, with a lot of unorthodox keyboard tones and effects, but it was still undeniably rock at its core. Others sees much more of an techno-industrial influence at some points and a clear symphonic direction at...well, others. For better or for worse, it is definitely not what I was expecting.
There are some familiar tricks deployed, though. The opener Fathers starts with a big blast of electro-organ fuzz and a drum and bass beat before giving way to an opening salvo of bit-crushed vocals. It's suitably exciting and is one of two tracks that really sounds like it could have been on its big brother album, including a direct lyrical reference to First Day/Nice Day For It which reliably conveys one of the band's big philosophical ethe, about the harrowing nature of nostalgia and aging and, given the song's title, its place in social legacies.
Fathers features some hyper keyboard lines right before this call-back, however, a quality also found throughout following track Clouda. I don't know if Jem has ever said he's a videogame fan, but it's easy to imagine the eclectic melodies found in here to be in a Megaman game, or perhaps even VA-11 HALL-A. No matter the source of inspiration, these are some sticky, driving riffs that convey a great sense of energy, and in fact, Godfrey's sense of melody is found throughout the entire project. Almost every track has a glorious chorus or main riff that is very easy to get stuck in the head but is visceral enough to feel punishing and satisfying every time. I don't know what Clouda is exactly about, but it sure makes silence being a crime to be found guilty of sound amazing!
Jem Godfrey actually comes from a pop song writing background, having made Atomic Kitten's big hit Whole Again, and doing work for Holly Valance, Gary Barlow and the like, and this has usually shown in his self-indulgent prog rock outfit too, but a cursory look at Frost*'s lyrical output depicts a much more cynical tone, especially on show business and the rat race, and this has never been more true than on Exhibit A, easily their darkest song since The Dividing Line. Comparing celebrity culture to the circus and taking an almost Bring Me The Horizon kind of approach with its chorus mantra of “we own, we own, we own you”, it also features giant cheerleading choirs, Prodigy-style bass breakdowns towards the end, an unrecognisable sample that Death Grips are probably mad they didn't find first, a quiet call-and-response bridge that leads into a tribal drum pattern, and then a monstrous and loud keyboard solo. The song is just this exhausting ride, a real explosion of anger and disillusionment with enough energy to power this circus they're talking about. Featuring a hard-hitting dual guitar and keyboard riff akin to Black Light Machine, it may be the album's highlight.
But these three songs are the most Frost*, the songs I could have most easily seen landing on a previous effort. Clouda even ends with a quiet, fading music box riff, the kind that peppers the Sunlight suite on Satellites. The real test for me was always going to be the album's more risk-taking songs, and Fathom is interesting in that its big risk is actually going backwards in songwriting style. Not in a bad way, mind; it's a very classical kind of song, with a story of a couple being dragged to war, the wife having to dress as a “cabin boy” so they don't get separated, before the story ends in tragedy and their dreams of a happy life together go unfulfilled. With the references to boats, the hinting towards conscription and the marching band beat, there's a lot of Great War imagery going on here, and the music has this classically cinematic feel, with a basic chorus opining about undying love standing in stark contrast to the lyrical verses, and the sad ending verse featuring a destruction of the instrumental body of the track that vaguely sounds like the end of a spaghetti western movie. Either way, it's a classically charged tragedy about love and war, the kind of song that used to be very common but now remains a curio. Personally, it's quite refreshing to hear songs this direct as the underground musical climate shifts towards the esoteric.
And just one song later, it's apparent Frost* weren't immune to this. I saw one person refer to Eat as “a Billie Eilish track”, and I don't really have a counter-argument. Like so much of her work, the song is built on minimalist industrial aesthetics; vocal samples are chopped and screwed to fragments and anonymous onomatopoeia, and you only need to listen to the first few seconds before Jem actually starts singing to figure out whether or not you'll like it. Again, a glance at the melody reveals the tools that the band has always had, and this isn't that dissonant from where the band started with The Other Me, but it's an aesthetic that kind of feels like a Halloween costume they're trying on. The fact the song ends with another brilliant explosion of synthesised strings and a cinematic arrangement, doing the melody just as much justice but sounding more alive and full, is testament to the idea the band were not playing to their strengths here. Nor were they on the closer, Drown, which is frankly the most boring track of theirs since the hidden track on Experiments. It's basically FS' British Wintertime without the emotion or dynamism, and the one piano line wears out its welcome very quickly.
Even on the songs more reminiscent of their early days, engaging with this album means being ready to tangle with some very non-rock, maybe even non-neo-prog aesthetics. Hyperactive keyboard lines on Fathers and Clouda might be par for the course, but all the cuts and fades to quiet atmospheric sections might be much to take in for newcomers, and that's one of the most basic digressions on offer. Exhibit A takes as much from dance and techno as it does from progressive rock, and I can easily see Eat being much more controversial to Frosties than Towerblock's dubstep influence. Again, Towerblock still had a very rock presentation, albeit with its electronic tones cranked to hell, but Eat's vocal samples, Fathom's Final Fantasy-esque presentation, Exhibit A's Prodigy/Celldweller tech-noise, we're about as far away from Experiments In Mass Appeal as we can get.
In fact, listening to Others finally got me to truly understand what makes EIMA so underwhelming to me. Any of those songs could have been written by anyone else, especially latter-day Dream Theater, and it didn't feel like much of an evolution. But even if some of Others' ideas aren't quite fully formed (I maybe would have thrown one more verse into Fathom), there's still a strong artistic pulse humming throughout the album, with a fairly unique sense of pop song melody carrying the project and equalising its disparate influences. It does also help that the production is much better here, though I will definitely give EIMA another shot if that remaster materialises. Falling Satellites 2.0 this ain't, but it should easily tide most fans over until that long-awaited fourth album.