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Born Gold

Little Sleepwalker

[Audraglint; 2012]

By ; October 31, 2012 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

2012 has been the year that Cecil Frena’s friends broke big. Former GOBBLE GOBBLE bandmates Corin Roddick and Megan James brought to full fruition their Purity Ring collaboration in Shrines. They channeled the ghosts of UK dubstep through pastelly blips and trap hats, all the while James waxed poetic about tearing open sternums in her lofty coo. It was simultaneously fresh sounding and of-the-moment, rendering them breakout stars and the relative fame that indie buzz can bring. Fellow Canadian and Montreal scene compatriot Claire Boucher, you know, Grimes, needs no real introduction given the rampant success that February’s Visions brought her.

Given any other circumstance, Frena–the mastermind between Born Gold (the remnants of GOBBLE GOBBLE)–would be poised to attain the same levels of acclaim. Last year’s Bodysongs, his first release under the Born Gold moniker, compiled a couple of years worth of hyperactive club-meets-hardcore pop music singles. In many ways Bodysongs (and really Frena’s entire production aesthetic) foreshadowed the success of Shrines— funneling the pale specter of Burial-esque vocal samples through insistent club beats. Though his sound was certainly louder, poppier and generally more frenetic than James and Roddick’s, Frena was frequently namedropped in write ups of the record and the widespread acceptance of such beautifully fucked pop music seemed to suggest that the public was finally ready to accept his next effort.

It was strange then that in his first interviews Frena sounded so apologetic about Little Sleepwalker. Referring to it as a “frosty world,” he’s certainly not been shy about its inaccessibility, a move that may leave longtime fans a bit puzzled. True to Frena’s hinting, Born Gold’s latest effort is a lot more amorphous and difficult to grasp. But despite the surface level subversion, Frena’s headlong dive into a new direction is admirable. The world is certainly more “frosty,” but the journey is no less rewarding than on previous efforts.

Right from the opening kicks of “Pulse Thief,” the magnitude of Born Gold’s directional shift is apparent. Though still reliant on the evocative lyricism that made early singles like “Lawn Knives” so potent, Frena’s focus has shifted from rapidfire glitchiness to a moody clubbiness that might be more at home on a Teengirl Fantasy record. When Frena’s vocals finally make the trapdoor drop through the roof of the beat-repeated snares, we’re met not with the ragged face of a former hardcore punk vocalist, but the sweet, gender-bent, autotune-aided soar of an affected falsetto. It’s striking, and at first confounding, but in Little Sleepwalker’s nightmarish world, Frena doing his best T-Pain begins to make a bit more sense.

The unrelenting heaviness of these compositions makes the first listen a tough prospect. With Bodysongs there were many doors in, many paths to the contorted world Frena constructed. But what Frena’s built here is just so much more alien. The doors are fewer, and on the other side of each one sits Frena’s vocals, warped to varying degrees of indistinguishability by gobs and gobs of pitch shifting. “Frosty” no doubt, but if you can edge your way in, the world’s more of a wonderland than you might imagine.

The Lex Luger synthesized strings of “Black Sonar” lend an overwhelming heaviness to a track that might otherwise be largely ethereal, before the kick breaks the track into a theremin-esque synth lead frenzy. All the while, Frena’s ascended to the melodic heavens to spout lines like “so young and yet so ancient / we diaphanous sprites.” It’s overwhelming, perhaps even seizure-inducing, in its relative maximalism, but such are the sounds that Frena has chosen to delve into on this release.

Melding a Rustie-like maximalism, with Purity Ring’s ghostly atmosphere, and a distinctly Frena-ian approach to proggy arrangements and lyricism, Little Sleepwalker represents a horribly Frankenstenian effort at club music. It’s obtuse, strange, but Frena has this way of selling even the most abstract moments. It’s labyrinthian production lends itself to an inaccessibility far beyond its 40 minute runtime, but if you give yourself time–if you’re willing to take the same stylistic leap of faith that Frena does–and immerse yourself in Little Sleepwalker’s frigid depths then you’ll find an incredibly thought out world, however frosty. Though this won’t be the record to win Frena the success of his friends, it shows most evidently that he’s not even playing the same game. Though it would’ve been easy to expect another set of Adderall-addled pop songs from the man that virtually invented the game, Frena’s run full speed off those tracks, begging us to follow along.


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