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New York Cool - Music

Frankel:
Anonymity Is The New Fame


Written by Boris Bullman


I want to put the songs from Anonymity is the New Fame in a hybrid car--a vehicle streamlined in design with lots of bright graphic effects on the digital dashboard, and a "life is precious" bumper sticker. Hybrids, the "environmental awareness" motorcade for the yuppie class, do not actually solve the problems of potentially catastrophic environmental degradation. The driver of the hybrid purchases the illusion of pastoral cruises through a Green America, while sunshine and prescribed mood-altering drugs drown out the mild depression caused by repressed empathy and ignorance of meaningful human emotions. Meanwhile the taxes levied on the new hybrid just paid for more war and environmental destruction then one American yuppie would bother to read about in the current issue of the Los Angeles Times.

For the price of a down payment on a new hybrid you too, eager musicians, could purchase a home studio that could produce such a homespun pop orchestra as this sophomore release from Frankel. Tweak the digital synthesizers, tone-drive your amps, and remember that double tracking your vocals adds intrigue to a passive and forgettable voice. But unfortunately, this squeaky-clean "bedroom" studio does not come with a clue about how or why one musically prepared individual might write a song. Yes, the clever chord changes from the Beatles fake book are available, and melodies by definition are really just pitches getting higher or lower in rhythm, all of which seems to be fodder easily manipulated into popular song. Here you are then, in your new hybrid studio, Prozac enhanced melancholy, the Los Angeles sunshine streaming through the windows, what do you do next? Eat the organically grown fruit that you bought at Whole Foods? Blow some canned air over your new Mac keyboard and a little through your hipster locks for kooky fun? Add some more friends to your Myspace page? Ah, well shucks, if you write a song, you could pass the time by dubbing in some of those Ringo Starr drum fills you perfected in your bedroom studio's isolated drum room.

Michael Orendy, the brains behind Frankel, is musically talented. In his digital studio he can sing difficult melodies accurately, his country-blues guitar picking is blemish-less, his choice of timber is stylized to a consistent half-dreaming lazy temperance, all of which makes for a sound that would not interfere at all with say, a shopping experience. This begs the question: does American culture need anymore passive music to ameliorate shopping experiences? Since commerce for entertainment purposes is going out of style, the answer should be obvious.

America needs brilliant songwriters: it is its tradition to produce them and laud them for their ability to speak unspeakable things. Sometimes these songwriters need back up bands. Frankel might make a good back-up band if all pretensions and egoistical drive to be the "brains behind" were abandoned. However, Frankel will doubtfully make a good songwriter lest Los Angeles is separated from California by earthquake, leaving bedroom studio and musician as the lone survivors on an unreachable island, offering space for true isolation, introspection, and loneliness. The songs would most likely still contain expected lines like, "sometimes I don't want to be myself at all, wishing I had a different me to call." Though, there, trapped alone in a geographic anomaly, we might have authentic compassion for this song's begging of a different Frankel to call.


Here are some references to recorded artists this record may remind a record-reviewer of: Granddaddy, Elliot Smith, M. Ward, The Pernice Brothers. Other reviewers say Harry Nilsson, and Frankel is similar to Nilsson in the way that it is harmless pop-songwriting with about three-quarters of Nillson's gorgeous vocal range. But lest we forget that Nilsson is often entertaining because he is sometimes glib, tongue-in-cheek funny. Frankel isn't really funny for the passive listener. Frankel asks on the track Weather Balloon, "Are we just taking up space", to which I reply by counting the megabytes used to store this album on my hard drive. I will save that space for perhaps the influences of M. Ward, many who pick the guitar out of passionate necessity, not because it is the alternative to test driving a new hybrid.


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