Frivolous: Meteorology
Cadenza Records

When Wagon Christ's Tally Ho came out in 1998, I found myself both dazzled and frustrated by the release—dazzled by abundant flashes of compositional imagination and beat programming but frustrated by Luke Vibert's tendency to undercut such moments with silliness (a feeling I've also had about many a Squarepusher recording)—and today find myself experiencing a similar kind of response to Frivolous's Meterology. Daniel Gardner's one of those producers with talent to burn and ideas to match, but many of the album's tracks suffer from their creator's tendency to subvert their potential. On the one hand, I welcome the light-hearted sensibility he brings to the production process, which is infinitely more appetizing than the pretentiousness of a producer who treats his/her work as if it's capable of fomenting global revolution, but I can't help but feel that by doing so Gardner's material ends up impressing less than it might.

The opener “One Final Solstice...” kind of sets the tone by saddling a promisingly snappy house pulse with an annoying whistle sound and background conversational exchanges. The track's three-minute length, however, suggests that it can be regarded as a mere scene-setter for what should be the main course to come, and, sure enough, the chugging cut that follows, “Allen Town Jail,” offers one of the album's brighter spots. The tune's jacking pulse is nicely enhanced by a buoyant bass line and soulful vocal touches, and the elements come together to form a breezy club workout that goes down easily. “Cinemascopique” adds a jazzy swing feel to the track's jacking house feel, and the melodica playing that drapes itself across the groove is a nice touch too. “Cryin'” likewise belies its downtrodden title for an exuberantly swinging seven-minute ride that's unfortunately marred by the addition of a comically melodramatic vocal. Elsewhere, the Russian-flavoured “Ostalgia,” bolstered by a chiming main melody, proves ear-catching but at eight minutes overstays its welcome, while, under the circumstances, titling a track “Wasting Time” is a risky move and, truth be told, the album closer isn't mandatory listening.

Metereology comes equipped with a curious backstory that has Gardner abandoning the unfriendliness of his Berlin neighbourhood for an island in the Pacific Ocean where he set himself up in a small cabin on a mountaintop and began working on the album's material. The inner tumult Gardner experienced in moving was exacerbated by his girlfriend's decision to split up with him just as she was scheduled to join him at the new locale. In light of such life events, perhaps we should be thankful that the album is joyful when it could just as easily have turned into an extended wallow in self-pity. Let's be clear: Metereology is hardly a failure. Gardner's grooves are deliciously tight throughout the album, and the tracks' exotic samples and left turns hold one's attention for much of the ride. It's simply the difference between what the album is and what it might have been that accounts for the underwhelming impression it leaves.

March 2011