Leeds-based band J Frisco make music which is self-proclaimed to be genre-fluid, improvisational and experimental. Listening to their new album Cut Throat for the first time, this sense of experimentalism definitely comes across, alongside the darkness and abruptness of the album’s title. Featuring industrial electronic elements, distorted guitar and lamenting saxophone, this album is definitely a difficult listen in many ways. Yet, J Frisco push the boundaries of music, and of improvisation itself – recording the album in one week, and professing that the trio themselves were unsure what would be produced at the end, reveals their commitment to the practise of experimentation, and their willingness to push the boundaries of musical ideas.
‘Blood Moon’ opens the album with melancholic synth and saxophone playing which sounds almost like a violin in tone – the way Lara Jones is manipulating her instrument is interesting, and adds new layers of texture to the rougher, sandpaper backing provided by distorted guitar and electronic bass element. The track, like many others on the album, fades out rather than ending abruptly – as listeners we get the sense that we have experienced a moment in time, rather than a resolved or whole piece of work. The improvisational quality and focus on atmosphere within the work is made clear through each track’s feeling as a ‘moment in time’.
‘Butterfly Wings’ is the most accessible track on the album, opening with subtle, breathy vocals from Jemma Freese and a high, atmospheric synth. This track, much like ‘Blood Moon’, holds a sense of anticipation and tension – we feel as though the track is building to something, or as though something is waiting to be released. Something dark is being expressed in this music, as Freese sings of ‘demons taking hold of you’ - yet at times, the music has a strange sense of comfort within it too. ‘Turn the Fox’ provides a contrast, opening with a more upbeat electronic sound – yet this positive beat is soon undermined by the chromaticism and distortion of the guitar, and the rougher electronic elements. Throughout this album, known and expected sounds and rhythms are deliberately undermined by unexpected and more abrasive soundscapes – J Frisco are really pushing the listener with their new work. By the end of this track’s climax, we are left with a sound reminiscent of an alarm created by Megan Roe’s guitar playing – the track is the most experimental on the album so far.
‘Craze’ and ‘Do You Want’ again contrast one another – the tense vocal harmonies in ‘Craze’ are followed by an electronic refrain which builds and feels reminiscent of electric guitar solos from rock. ‘Do You Want’ opens with an angry and defiant message, and fast distorted guitar in contrast – yet both tracks convey a sense of anticipation, darkness and defiance which are compelling. J Frisco really play with layering and different textures within the tracks, moving through subtler moments before reaching much more abrasive and overwhelming climactic sounds.
‘Jenny & Simon’ opens with an otherworldly sound created through the synth, but also chromatic and distorted guitar and electronic ideas – of all the tracks, the sense of juxtaposition and contrast is greatest in this one. There is a strong sense of comfort from the bass and guitar harmony, yet the distorted sounds cut through this and the listener is left with a sense of contradictory feelings. The sax on this track almost screams in lament – the tension in the piece is extremely overwhelming, and not for every listener, yet the choices being made by J Frisco are important and interesting.
‘Eyemouth’ opens with a calmer sound, as though someone is breathing deeply – a sense of hope seems to be built throughout the track, and as the saxophone enters, the piece has a real beauty to it. ‘Eyemouth’ feels more sensitive and subtle than the rest of the album, as the saxophone melody takes us to a place of melancholy and yet, acceptance. ‘Acoustic Cover’ then ends the album with arresting rhythmic ideas, returning to the rougher, industrial sounds of previous tracks, yet feeling more grounded than some of the more otherworldly sounds created throughout the album.
Cut Throat is a difficult listen, yet J Frisco’s courageous musical choices provide a new approach to music which makes for a very interesting, and at times beautiful, listen. The album’s title and its industrial and abrasive elements suggest that the trio made many deliberate and experimental choices in the studio in order to push the boundaries of improvisatory and electronic music. The album evokes sometimes overwhelming feelings, and although some are frightening, this seems to be the point - Cut Throat is definitely worth a listen.
Review by Evie Hill
Check out our Instagram Stories when J Frisco took over for the day, and our interview with the band.