Often elegant, heartfelt, poised and intriguing.
Kev Kharas 2009
frYars is often smug. Lend debut album Dark Young Hearts an ear and you’ll recognise the self-satisfaction rising in a ribbiting froth from the dark end of Ben Garrett’s throat, getting tangled in his curly, brown hair and leaving dubious stains all over his moth bitten blazer. The question is: does frYars deserve to be smug? And if he does, does that smugness not immediately preclude his deserving of it? You’d think so, but then frYars is also often elegant, heartfelt, poised and intriguing. Which presents us with a quandary.
It’s a problem best illustrated by a pair of tracks cradled to this album’s midriff. A Last Resort is a gorgeous acoustic lull in Dark Young Hearts’ mostly electronic clamour, its ukulele skiffle like Beirut’s if Zach Condon had mined Blackpool rather than the Balkans for inspiration. The lyrics, sometimes iffy elsewhere on the record, are affecting here, Garrett delivering the line “I think I’m too old to feel / this real” with a sincerity that’s unsettling in a 19-year-old. If his youth occasionally blesses Dark Young Hearts with an alarming precocity, the track that follows A Last Resort seems to suffer for the wetness behind Garrett’s ears; Novelist’s Wife finding the southwest Londoner awkwardly gurgling and stretching words until they sound embarrassed of their own letters.
That battle between natural talent and inevitable naivety is what you’d expect from a debut album, and frYars’ debut is defined by it. Previous singles Olive Eyes and The Ides are outstanding: both sullen, slightly absurd thrusts of 80s pop, but both also sound quite a lot like Patrick Wolf doing guest vocals for The Knife. Inexplicably, the smugness endures, until it’s oddly appealing. Much of Dark Young Hearts feels too pristine, in production and compositional terms; a hundred styles – steel pan, folk, synthpop, orchestral ballads –subdued within the mix. That Garrett very rarely sounds like anything other than a young man trying to find his own voice redeems Dark Young Hearts.
It’s good to hear someone young making mistakes. It gives frYars depth and room to grow – it gives him a future, essentially.