(klick the above link to read the actual feature on STARVOX)
Different Degrees Of Empty (Strobelight)
~reviewed by Uncle Nemesis
Well, how about this, then. An unexpected touch of class.
Why unexpected? Because all the references to Frank The Baptist I've seen up to now have given the impression that he/they (Frank The Baptist is one of those outfits where the name seems to refer interchangeably to both the main man and the band) are the latest sensations on the Deathrock scene. I was, therefore, half expecting the band to be the usual bunch of fishnet-clad mohawk-merchants, playing some sort of sleazy-glammy punk, with a singer who does that typical 'deathrock voice' - you know, that reedy wail, somewhere between Rozz Williams and Kenneth Williams. Not, I hasten to add that there's anything *bad* about the aforesaid style - in fact, I rather like it. But it has to be said that there seems to be an ever-increasing amount of it about these days, to the point where I suspect the law of diminishing returns is going to kick in at any moment.
All of which won't bother Frank The Baptist one bit, because they have got something of their own here; something rather good. Forget all those references to the D-word. The only word you need to know in connection with this band is the C-word. Which, in this case, is Class.
If you glance at the band's publicity pix, you'll see a gang of intense-looking gentlemen, dressed down in monochrome, looking like they've just come off a tour with Echo And The Bunnymen in about 1984. And that, perhaps, gives us an entry-point for the music. It's the kind of wide-screen post-punk rock which far too few bands seem to attempt these days. Think of the Triffids, the Pixies, the Bunnymen themselves - Frank The Baptist don't sound like any of those, but you could imagine the band on the same bill at a festival, and they'd fit right in. I'm struggling to avoid using the dread, dead, phrase 'alternative rock' here, because that's been hopelessly devalued in recent years by a bland succession of dadrock revivalists, but if there was ever a band who could put the 'alternative' back into this genre (and, indeed, the 'rock') then Frank The Baptist is our prime contender.
The songs are the band's secret weapons. You can have the coolest stylistic reference points in the world, but they'll count for nothing without the songs. Ah, but this band has no worries in this department. Allow me to pick out some particular goodies. 'Falling Stars' surges in on the kind of guitar-duel which would do Black Francis and Joey Santiago proud, the drummer's all over the kit like a rash (nice tom-work, that man) and the bassline does a wonderful little tumble at intervals, as if it's descending a staircase and suddenly, illogically, decides to run down the last few stairs. Frank himself has one of those voices which could sing across the Bay of Biscay - it's clear, powerful, ringing out like he's been schooled in that old pre-microphone vaudeville technique, where you imagine you're projecting your voice to the very back row of the stalls. 'Number One' is a bit of a wistful little thing, but even Frank The Baptist's wistful little things are built upon layers of clangorous guitar, and he still delivers the lyric it like it's the last song he might ever sing. 'Echoes Of Never' has Frank's voice right up front in the intro, sounding almost offhand over a jangling guitar. And then it all takes off, the vocals soar, the guitar cranks up, the drums go into overdrive but never lose control (nice snare-rolls here, incidentally) and we're into another of Frank The Baptist's weird-rock anthems...with, just to trip us up, a bizarre little coda which sounds like the band are having a Simon And Garfunkel moment. Strange buggers. But they get away with it!
'Silver Is Her Colour' is, perhaps, my favourite track here, although there's plenty of competition. Coming in on a slashed-out riff, the vocal all intense and wigged-out: 'The moon has a face that keeps me in my place' - it's the kind of thing Julian Cope would deliver after spending the night on a tumulus, staring saucer-eyed at the sky. The music builds and breaks down; revving the song up to a right old rocker, and then dropping it back, keeping it nice 'n' spooky as Frank has his little excursion into lunacy. All this, and some very nice snare-shots. What more could you want out of a rock song? The production, incidentally, is moonlight-clear and in-yer-ear throughout the album, a fine lesson in how to record a rock band on what I imagine wasn't exactly a lavish budget.
In short, good stuff. Outstanding stuff. Surging, pounding, head-back-and-hollering *great* stuff. If I were a booking agent, I'd put Frank The Baptist out on tour with Frank Black and the Catholics (hey, let's get the Franks together!) and then sit back and watch as they became stars of the alternative scene. Certainly, for any band working in a more or less DIY fashion within the world of independent rock, this is the standard you've got to aspire to. All you bands, listen to this album - and be worried. The bar just got a little bit higher. As for the rest of us - all we need to do is listen to this album and revel.
Letters To Earth
Silver Is Her Colour
Echoes Of Never
Bleeding In My Arms
On My Tongue
Swing The Pendulum
Frank The Baptist: Vocals, guitar
Rockin' Tommy Fuhr: Guitar (on some tracks)
Scot The Hoople: Guitar (on other tracks)
Rob 'Sulphur' Podzunas: Bass (on some tracks)
E-Train: Bass (on other tracks)
Wood: Bass (on still other tracks)
Anthony De La Cruz: Keyboards
Dave Hamersma: Drums
Frank The Baptist's website: http://www.frankthebaptist.com
Strobelight, Frank The Baptist's label: http://www.strobelight-records.com
Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis: http://www.nemesis.to