When this guy was expanding his indie rock and whatever else horizons, my brother was starting to dig heavily into the 80s – either more off-kilter new wave stuff or Gang of Four types; we didn’t have much stylistic crossover. But some conversation we had lit a bulb and he decided to play me Oblivious, Roddy Frame’s big single. And I was pretty astounded – this was recorded in 1983?
So on my next visit to the record shoppe (a several time a week habit…), perusing the used bins, what do I find but: Aztec Camera. …Frestonia.
Now I’m not a fool: I recognized that a 1995 album probably wouldn’t sound like one that the band out out a decade prior, and then there was that rather adult contemporary vibe to the cover. Still – why not? So with expectations appropriately adjusted, Frestonia became part of my catalogue.
In a way, this is two big pluses for my brother: The laid back pop and light jazz of the album was unlike anything else I was listening to, but my ears were attuned to Frame’s penchant for memorable melodies, meaning I cringed a little at the EZ listening aspect, but also found myself humming along, and tunes would get stuck in my head. So now that I own the majority of Frame’s catalogue, I can absolutely attribute my Camera fanship to that brother o’ mine, but as my tastes have expanded, I also have to wonder if the Frestonia experience didn’t covertly teach me to listen with slightly more open ears…?
The point I intend to circle around here (…point?) is that Frame is a great songwriter, and it’s fully evident on Frestonia. If anything – I’d my rating isn’t an indication – its his strongest AC outing since his debut, as though years of followups of going big with his sound or small and tweaks through other composer’s ears led Roddy back around to firmer faith in his own design. And thus we get notes of everything from his career, whether it’s the twinkling open-endedness of Dreamland, the minimalism of Stray, the light R & B of Love, or the direct hookiness of High Land. But its not a retrospective or a bis for nostalgia: All of the material feels fresh and vitalized; to my ears it’s the most comprehensive start to finish listen from his career.
Rainy Season starts things off by wandering around loosely before finding its strong central hooks and ideas, which ends up being a propulsive way of leading us into the rest of the album, from the bright and shiny single Sun to the layered Imperfectly and the gorgeous and patient build-up of the seven minute Debutante. The Langer / Winstanley co-production definitely lends a “bigger” sound to these songs, but Frame’s writing is inherently intimate. And unlike the occasional tonal mismatches Ryuichi Sakamoto brought Dreamland, here the combination pays off, allowing riff-centric rockers like Phenomenal World (very Good Morning, Britain) to sidle up next to more classic love crooners like Method of Love and the poppy Beautiful Girl without missing a beat, all of these tracks a smart perk-up from the album’s more contemplative middle. Basically: Every song has its place on the album.
Frestonia was notably Frame’s last release as a “band” before switching to the mostly acoustic output put out under his own name, as though he’d felt he’d taken the AC moniker as far as it could go. And though this seems to be something of an overlooked release for people, its the perfect bookend to the Aztec Camera catalogue alongside the energized High Land, Hard Rain. In the intervening years, Frame would try on slightly different stylistic hats, eventually just settling on being comfortable wearing all of them for Frestonia. And he pulls it off, with gusto.