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Happy as ever to cast their rod into exotic waterways, for First Frost The Lucksmiths decamped to Tasmania during the wintertime and found themselves in a rustic shack, working with producer Chris Townend who has crafted the band’s most dynamic album to date. Germinating from The Lucksmiths’ well-honed strummy lyrical folk pop, First Frost drifts casually into fresh terrain for the band, touching at times on glam, fuzzpop, krautrock, shoegaze, country, and even a little classic rock..! With assorted strings, horns and organs peppering the guitar-happy mix, and Tali White’s duet with The Harpoons’ Bec Rigby on the twangy "Lament of the Chiming Wedgebill", First Frost is one of the band’s finest and most diverse albums yet. And with all four members delivering the songwriting goods, The Lucksmiths’ disarming lyrical hooks shine warmer than ever.
1) The Town and the Hills
2) Good Light
3) A Sobering Thought (Just When One Was Needed)
4) California in Popular Song
5) South-East Coastal Rendezvous
6) The National Mitten Registry
7) Day Three of Five
8) Never and Always
9) Lament of the Chiming Wedgebill
10) How We Met
11) Song of the Undersea
12) Up With the Sun
14) Who Turned On the Lights?
The Lucksmiths are exactly the sort of indie-pop band that old-school indie-pop fans love, and First Frost is the sort of record that isn't going to do anything to diminish that position. It's understated, wonderfully crafted and impeccably recorded. It also comes off as if the band's completely unaware that there's a swelling movement of new fans flooding the genre. It's bedroom pop at its bedroom best.
Keepers of the Sarah Records flame, The Lucksmiths make a late bid for a spot on year-end lists with their first full-length effort in three years. That bid's led by everything we've come to expect from the band, as traces of twee creep into its hushed arrangements, a light melancholy mist settles on top of everything and singer/drummer (that's right, a singing percussionist) Tali White has enough quiet dignity to navigate everything that comes his way.
A lot comes his way. The band delivers a career-best set, with songs that run the gamut from poised orchestrated numbers full of brass and strings to bubbly rockers. It plays into every one of the band's strengths while belying any notion that the Lucksmiths are a one-trick pony. There are, of course, enough lilting acoustic-rock tracks to keep the status quo happy: "Day Three of Five" takes on a rootsy feel, thanks largely in part to a chugging rhythm section; "Good Light" comes closer to perfecting the band's trademark blend of easygoing acoustic guitars and jangly electrics.
When the band adventures out of its usual spots is where First Frost becomes the definitive Lucksmiths record. The lightest touch of string orchestration sneaks into the background of "California in Popular Song," though the balance of power's still in the jangle-pop favor. "The National Mitten Registry" takes a almost crushingly precious theme -- providing love for lost gloves and mittens -- and blends it with an arrangement that veers toward brass domination in its latter stretches. "Up with the Sun" stomps on some buzzing reverb, letting the act's usually restrained guitars run wild and free.
For 15 years, The Lucksmiths have dominated coy pop. To say First Frost tops that string of albums is an accomplishment unto itself. Jangly bedroom pop is rarely as effortless as it is on this album, rarely as independent of trends and rarely so beguiling.
Australian band The Lucksmiths seem destined to remain firmly rooted in the pop pigeon-hole marked ‘indie cult’.
You’d think after 15 years ploughing such a lonely furrow, they’d be due at least a few minutes of fame’s usual predetermined quarter of an hour.
But the inappropriately named Lucksmiths are still light years away from the big-time — despite a whole collection of top-drawer material.
Eleventh album, First Frost, generates more of the same first-class tunes boasting lean arrangements and lush textures which have been enhanced by tight, inventive musicianship and well-drilled song-writing.
Genre-wise they are hard to categorise — if anything, their sound lies somewhere between The Wedding Present and Belle and Sebastian.
First Frost oozes charm throughout — with little musical gems aplenty.
At times, the band veer into the old dreamy shoegazing territory of the early 1990s — tracks like the brilliant Lament of the Chiming Wedgebill are reminiscent of fellow cult band Slowdive’s finest hour, Souvlaki.
Frontman Tali White’s warm understated vocals call to mind The Wedding Present’s David Gedge or Badly Drawn Boy.
But the success of this new collected works lies more in the beautiful melodies, floating harmonies and the fragrant accompaniment.
The tunes are also wonderfully uncluttered and unpretentious.
There is no effort at all on the part of the listener — the Lucksmiths make life very easy. All you have to do is simply lie back and enjoy.
First Frost also spawns two of the Lucksmiths’ best ever tracks — the bouncy, joyous pop nugget that is South-East Coastal Rendezvous and the truly wonderful Pines.
The Lucksmiths will be hard pushed to better this exquisite collection. A quiet classic.
Indie pop, like other scenes outside rock's traditional canon, doesn't necessarily demand consistency. With a tradition of vinyl singles, small but beloved labels, and an intense sense of community, indie pop fans tend to place value on singles and EPs as much as albums. And with a decade and a half of reliably charming singles, EPs-- and, yes, albums-- the Lucksmiths are kind of like their genre's dependable go-to; they're the Hold Steady of indie pop.
You know what to expect from the Australian band's ninth album, First Frost, and as with Craig Finn & co.'s latest, Stay Positive, you also a get a few new wrinkles. Stand-up drummer Tali White sings a little bit softer now; the guitars crunch more often. But the songs-- written mostly by guitarist Marty Donald, though also by White, bassist Mark Monnone, and newer guitarist Louis Richter-- are still genial sing-alongs that bounce from languid introspection to scrappy exuberance. Covering familiar subjects like the weather, drinking, geography, and quiet melancholy, they delight with catchy tunes and understated eloquence. First Frost doesn't match the peaks of 2005's Warmer Corners or last year's 45-track Spring a Leak compilation, but it comes close.
Recorded in Tasmania with Chris Townend, the album continues a gradual sonic exploration: Horns and glam-rock swagger help Donald's "A Sobering Thought (Just When One Was Needed)" clear its head, while an unexpectedly grinding guitar solo lets White's acoustic "Up With the Sun" move beyond "a time when every lunch was breakfast." Monnone's "South-East Coastal Rendezvous" comes about as close to the wavy guitarscapes of Strawberry Wine-era My Bloody Valentine as the Lucksmiths probably ever will, evocatively concluding, "Here's to who knows what" (alas, not "when"). Strings nicely adorn slower songs like Richter's opening "The Town and the City" and Donald's similarly themed "Pines". "I don't mean to suggest I'm getting older/ But the city looks better over my shoulder," goes the latter.
If it sounds like the Lucksmiths that wrote happy-go-lucky songs like "Under the Rotunda" and "T-Shirt Weather" have grown up...well, they have, but their craft has matured, too. They still "drink and laugh and eat," as on Monnone's folkier, slightly drab "Day Three of Five". Only now they're left to ask themselves, "Why did you get drunk" in Donald's mournful, country-tinged duet with female vocalist Bee Rigby, "Lament of the Chiming Wedgebill". No, wait, it's the chiming wedgebill who's asking.
Most admirably, First Frost finds the Lucksmiths continuing to put out quietly ambitious records that could be enjoyed by almost anybody who loves music-- not just indie pop partisans. "California in Popular Song" is the best song on the album, but it's not a difficult critic's favorite; either you'll love the trebly guitar interplay, White's tender phrasing, Donald's vivid storytelling about someone leaving for an imagined California, and delicate turns of phrase like "your eyes are wet with wine," or you'll listen to something else. Yes, I realize the poetically arranged SAT-word sing-along that ends Donald's gorgeous "The National Mitten Registry" is waaay too precious for the Hot 100. But as White sings: "Fingers crossed/ All is not lost." The Lucksmiths still drink; they haven't dried up, and it doesn't sound like they're going to crumble into dust anytime soon.
First Frost opens with the first Lucksmiths song written by Louis Richter, who played guitar on the last album and has been playing with the band on tour for years now. Titled “The Town and the Hills”, it’s sung by drummer Tali White, the band’s lead vocalist no matter the songwriter (mostly Marty Donald, sometimes Mark Monnone, occasionally White). Richter wrote two of the album’s 14 songs. It’s a sign that The Lucksmiths are now officially a four-person band, though already the last album Warmer Corners benefited from his presence on guitar.
With each album their already pretty much perfect songwriting gets better, and over the last three albums, counting this new one, the music has jumped forward as well, with arrangements that are more sophisticated, in a good way. And at the same time the band keeps getting punchier. First Frost overall has a sense of wistfulness to it, but plenty of the songs have moments where the band pushes forward forcefully. The last time I saw them play live I was struck by how much faster they were playing, how much they rocked, even. On album they’ve translated that into compact bursts of energy without losing the subtler touch their thoughtful songs require. It’s a confidently written and played album, plentiful with winning melodies but also instrumental parts that do well to communicate the mood of the song and album. One such surprising but natural moment comes near the album’s end on the slow-and-steady “How We Met”, where the band builds up into a noisy shimmer, emulating the radio static mentioned in a lyric. The album is filled with other less dramatic, but no less enjoyable, musical moments.
”The Town and the Hills” sets up the mood of the LP well, by setting a very specific scene (“The clouds are hanging low / about the shoulders of the hills / where the shadow kills the light”) and then introducing characters, who bring along their own anxieties and dreams. First Frost is filled with daily-life stories, serious or light, smartly written into song. These observational stories carry little truths about human relationships and experiences, but are never heavy-handed about it, rarely even trying to pin down any truths as such.
”A Sobering Thought (Just When One Was Needed)” vividly describes a drunken night out on the town with an old friend. The spunky “South-East Coastal Rendezvous” (one of a couple songs here that I’ve taken to declaring as the pop hit of the season when it comes on) also has some people meeting up after a period apart, drinking a toast to the unknown (“here’s to who knows what”). The narrator of “How We Met” inadvertently eavesdrops on his lover at a party telling the story of how they met. The especially bittersweet “California in Popular Song” has someone moving to the western US, the song’s narrator explaining to her that moving doesn’t always make things right, and that songs aren’t always true: “All those songs about California lied / the stars won’t shine tonight / it isn’t going to be alright.”
The album’s characters seem to teeter-totter between worry and hopefulness, cynicism and optimism. Even a lost mitten comes to represent both, as a group-singalong breaks into the chorus “fingers crossed / all is not lost.” Entwined with that worry/hope balance are people and places – lovers separating, to uncertain end; cities quiet and still. The album’s final song, “Who Turned on the Lights?”, offers one last invigorating moment of uncertainty, in a song about both people and a city. It starts on a train, in the aftermath of a lovers’ spat. They reach a city that’s surprisingly bright, asking each other the title question in a tuneful chorus, strengthened by electric guitar and backing harmonies. It ends the album on an up note musically, and perhaps one for the album’s characters too: “I know we’re trembling now / but the lightning and rain are gonna pass…”" Dave Heaton, Erasing Clouds
The Luckless Smiths, as some have tagged these Morrissey-influenced Aussies, have quietly gone about their business for 15 years, recording generally overlooked yet increasingly radiant albums that have made them one of their country’s most prolific and consistent group of songwriters.
First Frost, their 11th studio album, picks up the baton passed by 2005’s career-crowning Warmer Corners and it maintains the band’s upward curve – this is grown-up Lucksmiths but one that still sparkles with the youthful zest that made them so appealing in the first place.
It’s just now they take themselves more seriously – gone are the witty, throwaway puns and two-minute songs that occasionally seemed out of place on their Nineties albums and possibly undermined the notion that here was a band to be reckoned with.
This may not read like a positive but, like Warmer Corners before it, First Frost is music to sigh to.
Not in a despressing, melancholy sense – it’s more of a nostalgic, comfortable and settled sigh made evident on album opener The Town And The Hills which blends brass, strings and airy vocals.
The album’s finest moments – the achingly lovely Good Light, the twee-est song title ever on the delicate The National Mitten Registry, the railway rhythm of Day Three Of Five and the Wedding Present-esque vibe of Up With The Sun – are among the best songs the Melbourne-based quartet have ever recorded.
Elsewhere there are nods to country in the duet Lament Of The Chiming Wedgebill and something of a guitar surge on A Sobering Thought and Never And Always and, though songwriting credits are shared by all four members of the band, there is never a lack of cohesion.
First Frost is the sound of four men growing older together, leaving behind the urban dreams of youth for gentler pursuits – but they’re not doing so gracefully.
“I don’t mean to suggest I’m getting older,” sings Tali White on Pines, “But the city looks its best over my shoulder…”
That should strike a chord with all who’ve followed The Lucksmiths’ journey down the years. We are, after all, in the first frost of our lives too..." Ed Miller, Music Week
Indie isn’t really a musical genre even though it’s frequently labeled as one. But it does make for a description, one I grudgingly admit to using more than is likely necessary. But sometimes it just fits. And few bands on the planet have earned that portrayal more than Melbourne’s the Lucksmiths.
Strictly speaking, indie describes everything not released on a major label—yes, even Sun Records was technically an indie label, making artists like Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley among the earliest of indie rockers. But indie is generally used as a way to describe a general aesthetic, one that supports the DIY-ethic, an alternative approach to songwriting/recording, a general preference for intimacy and an allergic reaction to polish. There are, naturally, exceptions to these rules, and numerous indie groups sound like majors and vice versa, but the best way to figure it out is pretty simple: if you heard it on the radio during prime driving hours, it’s a pretty safe bet that Universal, Sony, Warner or EMI wanted you to hear it.
Whether the Lucksmiths would welcome the media attention or not (I suspect the latter), there’s absolutely no reason why one or more of the four majors shouldn’t target this group. They’ve been around long enough (First Frost is their ninth full-length studio album, and they have several EPs in addition) so they have a built-in fanbase. They’re fairly traditional in their approach to songwriting—neither dangerous nor dull. And they have an uncanny ability to write perfectly pleasant pop songs. If the Lucksmiths have a niche, it was carved only out of the necessity of mild anonymity. I doubt there is a person alive that can’t embrace at least half of these songs. Even if the tunes fail to inspire a passionate response in certain closed-off individuals, derision could only be summoned by the sourest of fools.
Specializing in the gentle guitar-driven pop rock made famous by the likes of the Go-Betweens, Belle & Sebastian, Belly and the Wedding Present, they know their way around a pop song, and find imaginative ways to force even the most subdued of hooks deep into the brain. Witness “California in Popular Song,” with its whimsical, twinkling guitar line, sun-drenched pastoral folk decadence and hushed vocalizing both sighing and direct. Or try out the funereal “The National Mitten Registry.” Slow, spare and somber (if a bit too lyrically precious—love for mittens?), it gradually collects steam without ever upping the tempo. Simple and effective, they know how to crackle a fire over the iciest of landscapes, drawing in each of their breaths with those from our own lungs. They even dabble in old-style country western duets on “Lament of the Chiming Wedgebill,” built around a twangy guitar trot and accented with acute harmonica flourishes. And when the music gets really quiet just before the placid shoegaze climax of “How We Met,” you realize that this is how Chris Carrabba should have been doing it all along.
But don’t think that this is an entirely sedate and subtle affair. Try out the buoyantly melodic but pristinely potent “A Sobering Thought,” arguably the album’s catchiest track. Or if you prefer velocity, listen to the locomotive guitar of “Never & Always.” That chugging crunch comes courtesy of recently-added guitarist, Louis Richter, who acquits himself nicely as writer and performer both, penning that song as well as the more warmly unfolding charms of leadoff, “The Town and the Hills.” I imagine his rougher edge helped increase the impact of the bouncy, Silver-Jews-on-Ritalin winner, “South East Coastal Rendezvous.” The Lucksmiths were once dominated by acoustic guitars, but the way they blend them with electric now is quite impressive.
If the album opens strongly, it may very well close even better. “Song of the Undersea” and “Up with the Sun” nearly match guitarist Marty Donald’s earlier one-two punch of “Sobering” and “California”; jangly pop nuggets with effervescent harmonies layered over plucky percussion. “Pines” is a gorgeously melancholic mid-tempo ballad, one of the band’s finest slow tracks in their long history—the strings that take over in the second half accentuate the internal turmoil. The phrases that singer/drummer Tali White sing over this cut are suitably sensitive: “I went through all my winter clothes/And quiet was the only thing I kept,” and, “I don't mean to suggest I'm getting older/But the city looks better over my shoulder.” As for the final song (“Who Turned on the Lights?”), it’s not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but the use of an organ and (I think) cowbell in an entirely logical way suggests that they’re even more sonically inventive than originally suspected.
" Matt Medlock, Just Press Play
One of the keys to the Lucksmiths’ success comes in the way they can be effortlessly loose in their arrangements while remaining songwriters as tight as the most frenzied rock acts around. It’s easygoing music, to be sure, but entirely uncluttered and lacking in pretension. The addition of strings and horns to several songs never feels superfluous or forced purely for a twee/chamber pop effect. And as a vocalist, White has the straightforward, mild-mannered dignity and understated effect that Badly Drawn Boy promised us years ago. Luckily, this group has more staying power. After more than fifteen years of recording, here’s looking forward to fifteen more. Maybe one day they’ll be as popular as they ought to, but I’m not holding my breath.
Melbourne’s The Lucksmiths are the foremost of a number of Australian bands (see also: Darren Hanlon, The Cat’s Miaow, the Mabels) keeping alive the flame lit by the Go-Betweens of the style Robert Forster and Grant McLennan labelled “that striped sunlight sound” - wistful melodies, lyrically strong with a tinge of doomed romanticism. So much an institution of the scene that they’ve put out two rarities collections, one a double set, their ninth studio album sees no reason to change its core ways of understated, deeply likeable old school indie, more polished than the shamblers, no concessions given to allow Zane Lowe airplay. That longtime home of the perfect pop non-hits Fortuna Pop! are putting the album out in Britain is no surprise.
That said, while First Frost gives moving on from bedroom romanticism a go it can’t quite match up to their last studio effort, 2005’s Warmer Corners, an inevitably widely ignored collection that just about perfected their craft. Trying to improve on such Aus-pop perfection inevitably ends in slight letdown, as almost too perfect in stylistic conception songs like ‘Good Light’, with its lightweight, jangly mostly acoustic summery strumming, yearning lyrical themes and subtle horns, are. Of the band’s four songwriters it’s guitarist Marty Donald who again comes up trumps, with that song and album highspot ‘A Sobering Thought (Just When One Was Needed)’, detailing drunken swimming pool escapades to a glam beat and choral call-and-response chorus, plus the country-flecked acoustics and distant strings of ‘California In Popular Song’, where the unshowy, quiet nobility of vocalist/drummer Tali white is at its most effective.
What’s always most impressive with the Lucksmiths is the area where a few of their contemporaries have fallen short, not only in having multiple songwriters turning out an album that is largely of a piece but in ensuring such melodically crafted, often Smiths recalling (this the band who have released a song entitled ‘There Is a Boy That Never Goes Out’) introspection doesn’t lapse into autopilot and make them an easily dismissable one trick pony. They’re not afraid to extend out of their previously drawn comfort zone, so the guitars do get edgier than they’ve previously displayed and at points positively reverb-happy, while the colliery brass lament of ‘The National Mitten Registry’ facilitates the almost unthinkable act of making lachrymosity out of an extended metaphor based on lost gloves (unless it is actually about lost gloves, of course, in which case it’s potentially the twee-est thing you’ve ever heard) Unfortunately it’s let down by a pronounced dip from just after midway where, bar the subtle string-backed repudiation of the city of ‘Pines’ and ‘Up with The Sun’ being taken over halfway through by uncharacteristic fuzzy guitar, things level out and veer too close to the territory of the Magic Numbers and the Walkabouts, and right at the end a few uncalled for classic rock shapes, as if such apparently effortless songsmithery had actually become too easy for them.
The Lucksmiths may not exhibit the flamboyancy and wide ranging scope of immediate touchstones the Go-Betweens and Belle & Sebastian, and previous two albums Naturaliste and the aforementioned Warmer Corners would be better places to start, but First Frost retains that lightness of touch towards their subjects and abilities that marks them well out from the crowd, by turns heartbreaking and optimistic. More of the same, but until it hits the wall that’s not always such a bad thing.
I can think of no other band that writes melodic pop songs as articulate about everyday life scenarios—cities, the weather, wasting time, interactions between friends and lovers—as the Lucksmiths, and they keep getting better at it as the years pass. What’s more, their music is getting more attractive to the ears. Each of their last three albums has represented a strengthening and filling-out of their sound. First Frost is touched by driving rock, stately folk, tender soul, and a blast of noise, even. And all the while this sounds like the Lucksmiths we know and love. Within these songs people travel, get drunk, grow together and grow apart. None of the stories are unnecessarily over-dramatic, but rather thoughtful, detailed, and recognizable. That real-life familiarity may be why their albums are so easy to listen to over and over again, to live with." Dave Heaton, Pop Matters — First Frost voted #1 "Best Indie Pop of 2008"