Were it not for Zach Braff, I might have missed out on Frou Frou, The Shins, and missed Colin Hay's solo career. So it's a damn good thing my friend Rikki suggested we catch Garden State when I was visiting Lawrence, Kansas many years ago.
The first song on Frou Frou's Details, "Let Go," is featured in the movie and on the Garden State soundtrack. It was some of the first new music I'd been enthused about in a while. Turns out, the entire album is at least as good as "Let Go," and a few of the tracks even better.
In some ways, it's a logical progression from Depeche Mode to Frou Frou. "Let Go" is composed primarily of synth, drum machine, though it also features violin and bowed double bass. But the vocals are the most important instrument, and Heap's voice is magical.
It's not merely that Heap has a beautiful voice, though she does, it's how she deploys it. She can do breathy and quiet, she can do soaring and glorious, and everything in between. Check out "Breathe In" and note not only the lead vocals, but also the loops of Heap's voice serving as part of the background music.
"Must Be Dreaming" begins with sparse voice and percussion and eventually builds to a layered frenzy of strings, percussion, bass, and vocals that lives up to the song's title.
"Psychobabble" is the track that sticks in my head every time. There's a strong undercurrent throughout the song that lets you just float along. I get sucked in every time, and usually completely immersed in the emotion of the song. The strings, or synthesizer doubling as strings, towards the end of the track are just perfect. The only complaint I have with the song is that I want it to keep going and going, but eventually it ends.
When I listen to "Hear Me Out" it always sounds weirdly anachronistic when Heap sings that she joins "the queue on your answer phone." It's a jarring term anyway, but who still had an answering machine you could hear pick up in the 2000s? But it's a lovely song, and the other lyrics are supremely evocative
I'm a slow-motion accident
Lost in coffee rings and finger prints
I don't want to feel anything
But I do, and it all comes back to you
Does it count as a cover if you were part of the band that wrote the tune initially? "Maddening Shroud" was done first by Acacia, which included Heap and Frou Frou's other half, Guy Sigworth. I vastly prefer this version, voiced by Heap instead of Alexander Nilere.
"The Dumbing Down of Love" is slow, intimate, and raw. You believe it when Heap sings "music is worthless unless it can / make a complete stranger / break down / and cry." This track doesn't make me break down and cry, but I certainly feel strongly moved when listening to it.
That's the secret to Frou Frou, and much of Heap's solo music as well. It's well-crafted, poppy, electronic goodness… but it has so much heart too. Rumor has it that Frou Frou might just be pondering another album, and I hope that's the case. This one is perfect, but leaves you greedy for more.