Wonder Wonder

Band: Edith Frost
Album: Wonder Wonder
Best song: The title track is brilliantly melancholy and “Cars and Parties” is fun as well. “The Fear” is a cool little song, as well.
Worst song: “Merry Go Round” isn’t brilliant.

I will never really understand how female singer-songwriters become hits or not. I imagine some of it is timing; if Edith Frost began making records 10 years after she did (1997), maybe she would’ve become more of an internet sensation. I also — I’m sorry to say — think that, for ladies, some of it revolves around looks. Frost — not unlike Kelly Hogan, actually — doesn’t look like Chan Marshall. I imagine a lot of it is the company one keeps, as Emily Haines and Leslie Feist get a lot of play from being connected to Broken Social Scene (and Neko Case‘s connection to the New Pornographers doesn’t hurt).

I think the last bit is the key one. Scene matters. There was an old trope about the Thrill Jockey anniversary shows written on Pitchfork that put it succinctly:

They’re consistent, reliable, and, as with any true friend, they have nothing to prove; the respect and admiration you and these bands share for one another is implicit. They’ve sorta always been there, too, and you get the feeling they always will be. These are the kind of bands, by and large, that populate the Thrill Jockey roster.

So you won’t find many MySpace profiles gushing OMG I <3 SEA+CAKE x 1000000!!!!!11, but you can, it seems, always count on a sea of serene faces at any Sea and Cake show.

This, of course, is Frost’s scene, albeit tangentially. Steve Albini’s no one’s — in this metaphor — idea of a “true friend,” but his connection to the Thrill Jockey/Drag City/Touch & Go Chicago scene is the point of this exercise. Albini produced engineered Wonder Wonder. She hangs out with Rian Murphy and the people from Royal Trux.

And that construction fits Frost. Wonder Wonder is so decidedly beautiful, constructed and arranged that it’s hard to go completely insane over it. It’s just great. It’s not dispassionate, but its passion lies in a melancholy evident in its title track. With a minor key melody played on a little toy keyboard and sparse percussion played on household objects, “Wonder Wonder” could easily be a twee song without Frost’s gorgeous voice and delivery. The song is anything but pretentious. “The Fear” is similar in that the arrangement — Organ! Fuzzed guitar! Cello! — could easily be something out of a Nick Cave record, but the record’s somber tone is almost confessional in Frost’s hands. “Cars and Parties” goes the complete opposite, with bells and a military beat. Sounding like a Sufjan Stevens song on sedatives, the song kicks into gear as the chorus rolls in, the guitar and piano play off one another as Frost’s voice is doubled.

It’s a different sort of thing than Leslie Feist or Emily Haines records; you’ll never hear “Wonder Wonder” on an iPod ad or in an Edgar Wright movie. Nevertheless, Wonder Wonder is a gorgeous record.

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