“This is interesting” is a phrase that can easily go two ways. Oftentimes we say it in order to acknowledge that something is unlike anything we’ve heard, but with the subtext that we’re really not hoping to hear it again. Such is not the case with Letters to Maro, the new album from Frequency Drift. With this album the listener will be treated to a fresh approach that, while often restrained and atmospheric, never fails to actively ensnare the eavesdropper. This “trap” is frequently achieved through clever songwriting with interesting arrangements, providing hooks more often than your typical chorus. I think through the opening title track and follow up “Underground” you’ll already hear what I’m talking about.
The album doesn’t feature any overly amazing feats on one particular instrument yet excels in how well it weaves instrumentation together in each track. Along with keys, guitars, and bass, Andreas Hack also plays mandolin. Nerissa Schwarz handles the electric harp and mellotron in addition to more common synthesizers. Drummer Wolfgang Ostermann, aside from a normal kit plays something called a wavedrum. I’ll admit, I had no clue what that was until watching an instructional video, but in any case, it’s another gun in the arsenal of a band with a slim three instrumentalists. Because of the interplay of these folks it’s no surprise that Irini Alexa is the star of this album, simply because every bit of the beautiful singing heard can easily be attributed to her. Though the vocals are often layered in a way that would be impossible to pull off live without backing tracks or other technological trickery, I don’t have to worry about that when listening to the album. She matches the music well at all times, and with a variety of different approaches, never failing to be haunting and clear. It’ll take many more spins before the swinging section in the song “Electricity” fails to enchant me, primarily because of her work. This would also be the one major departure from my chorus comment earlier, but the song still has plenty to back up its amazing refrain, and as such is sure to be a fan favorite.
A little more dense than some of the other tacks, “Izanami” is a great example through its first half of lead and background sounds weaved together as bass, drums, and vocals break through out front while other instruments subtly fill in behind to give the song a special sound. The latter half shifts focus and features several of the before mentioned instruments, including a lovely use of the harp. You’ll find this kind of work all over the smoothly paced landscape that is Letters to Maro. Near the end of the album “Who’s Master?”, which again features Irini’s vocals and is another favorite, also happens to have the longest run time on the album at over nine minutes. With most of the album featuring mid-length pieces it’s great to hear the band’s style applied to this longer form.
The sound of this album is very warm and modern, with things so precise and clear if there was any complaint it’s that it runs the risk of being overproduced to the point of sounding processed. With the often instrumentally thinner style of the album this production does help filling in the space that might otherwise sound a little vacant. While I’d say that the album may lack standout tracks, aside from the aforementioned “Electricity”, it’s more due to the entire album being an enthralling cohesive listen than anything being subpar. One could say that perhaps that aforementioned track breaks the flow of the album just as easily as they could say it’s a star song.
I know prog isn’t pop, but you’re still going to have to forego some of the regular hooks and dig a bit deeper to enjoy this album. That said I think it’s certainly worth the effort and the more attentive listening to experience one of the better “interesting” albums that we’ll get this year.
Released By:Gentle Art of Music
Release Date: April 13th, 2018
Genre: Cinematic Progressive-Rock
- Irini Alexia / vocals
- Andreas Hack / keys, synths, guitar, bass, mandolin
- Nerissa Schwarz / electric harp, mellotron, synths
- Wolfgang Ostermann / drums, wavedrum
- Michael Bauer / additional guitars and live guitars
- Marco Geipel / live bass
“Letters to Maro” Track-Listing:
- Dear Maro
- Sleep Paralysis
- Who’s Master
- Ghosts When It Rains
Musicianship rates respectably due to a high volume of instruments used well, but the real treat of the album is an original approach meticulously thought out and executed. Sonically the warm production puts a bow on top and delivers a beautiful album to your ears.