Thursday 15 December 2022

Fren - All the Pretty Days (2022)

Country: Poland
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 8 Oct 2022
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If there's anything better than discovering an amazing new band at the point they release a killer first album, it's having your judgement validated by an equally killer second album. I can't say it's better than the first but it's certainly up there with it, distilling a whole decade of music into new forms that are recognisable without ever feeling derivative. This one may be a little more patient and possibly a little more mature, but it's clearly the same band delivering the goods, underlining why Fren are my favourite Krak├│wianin prog rock band.

Like Twin Peaks on the debut, Where Do You Want Ghosts to Reside, Hammill opens this one up tenderly. It builds, sure, but the majority of the piece is tender. It's presumably a tribute to Peter Hammill, the driving force behind Van der Graaf Generator and, even though Theme One was one of the most omnipresent pieces of music in my teenage years through its use in regular segments on the Friday Rock Show, I don't know them as well as I should. I know enough to have called them out as a influence on that debut album but I don't know enough to explain how pointed a tribute this might be.

Hammill is only a six minute song, which reminds me of how wildly varied the song lengths were on that debut. I mentioned in my review that they're as long as they need to be, whether that's three minutes or twelve. That holds here too, though there's twenty more minutes of music without any more tracks. Bajka is three, Hammill six and the rest extend on out to the epic closer, Turque, at an expansive 24:23. Two others make it past ten and yet not one of these songs feels too long. In fact, it always seems surprising when Turque wraps up because it never seems like it's been that long. I guess there's a pause and a shift ten minutes in so maybe it deceives us into thinking its two pieces instead of just one.

There's a lot here that echoes the first album, not in the sense that they're reworking songs but in the sense that they're taking similar approaches in a different way. As Hammill is a tender opener like Twin Peaks, Romantik begins with a waterfall of a piano, an echo back to my favourite track on the debut, Pleonasm, appropriately so because Romantik is my favourite track this time out. It's a hookladen piece, wih a delightful hook early on that moves into another heavier one. While parts of this feel like the reliable base for a jazz improvisation that doesn't happen, I never felt that the piece needed anything more than it has.

Surprisingly, given that I tend to like Fren songs that are long enough to seriously breathe, I'd say that Bajka is my next favourite and that's the three minute piece here, half the length of anything else. It's a gorgeous piece, starting out as tenderly as Hammill but shifting from introspective to demanding, with the sort of threat that Pink Floyd conjure up in their darker songs. It features a delightfully rich keyboard sound too midway that wavers like a theremin but in a deep and echoey fashion that fascinated me. The drop out of the heavy section is absolutely delicious too. It catches me out on every listen with its sheer beauty.

Fren have a habit of doing things like that. There's menace to the title track too, with the cymbals dancing while the bass prowls, and it moves into a middle eastern flavour later in the song. Torque is the epic here, though, even if the title track runs almost twelve minutes, and it closes out things with a grand sweep of the prog rock genre, as if deliberately cycling through every influence that the band has.

It kicks off with rhythmic keyboards in that Philip Glass vein I remember from the debut. It builds into a sort of Turkish gallop, then a section that feels vaguely like a spaghetti western theme and an interesting one with staccato notes contrasting with a drone. There's a longer section deep in the second half that's halfway between Pink Floyd and Marillion with some recognisable phrasing, then that adds menace and another gallop and more ethnicity appropriate to the Turkish title. It hammers that point home when the vocals show up. No, nobody sings here, but there is a section of vocalisations to wrap things up, as if someone's calling a rondo.

I haven't even mentioned the immersive Wiosna yet, which is hardly an inconsequential piece at a snip over ten minutes, but then this is a sixty-five minute album. There's a lot here and I'm finding things on my fourth time through that I didn't hear the time before. It definitely feels patient in a way that the debut didn't, a little more aware of space, but it's an excellent and highly consistent companion to an excellent debut. I am so looking forward to seeing what this band knock out over the next decade or two.

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