It’s a case of less reverb coated shoegaze, more stripped-back lo-fi containment for Froth’s fourth album, the band now down to a trio of frontman Joo Joo Ashworth, Jeremy Katz (bass) and Cameron Allen (drums). Notably, they’ve declared Duress as a more confident outing, one that contravenes the title though, until you discover that it’s actually named after an actor rather than a pressure-heavy state of mind.
Opener Laurel opens to a high pitched whine akin to an old early-issue home computer screeching away during its software loading stage before a percussive burst similar to Doves’ Black And White Town kicks in. This second curveball also lasts fleetingly until a slower, fuzzy groove fires up, based around a solid riff and lazily slung vocals. Remember those annoying ‘is it a blue dress or is it a gold dress’ arguments raging over the internet a year or two ago? Well, this song tackles the issue of the similar ‘computer generated voice’ argument where some people were hearing “yanny” whilst others swore blind that it was “laurel”. Bonkers stuff for a song catalyst, it’s true, but when it is considered that the band developed other ideas from the boredom they experienced directly following tours, you get the impression that maybe inspiration doesn’t matter too much when you produce something as decent as this from such a tiny, unexpected seed.
That’s not to say that all the songs on Duress are down to less conventional ideas and influences. The dreamy Slow Chamber has likely grown out of Cocteau Twins appreciation while the minimalism of both 77 and John Peel Slowly (canny wordplay there, boys) owe a debt to the industrial, early synth sounds of pioneering acts from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
Beginning life as a single song, Catalog and then Dialogue couple up for a pretty pairing, the two being split after a parental complaint as things get chirpy and summery. Daintily pleasing melodies remind of The Proper Ornaments with more guts, alongside an injection of hushed discussions around the existence of alien life.
However, Duress boasts three splendid peaks that soar high above their peers. A lengthy instrumental set to a driving motorik beat chugs away nicely for the impressive A2, vocals finally arriving when you’re convinced there won’t be any at all. The superb slower, moody sounding Department Head is then built around a teasing, repetitive hook as multiple guitar parts do their best to alleviate obvious New Order comparisons. The triumvirate is then completed by another belter, Xvaῆos – meaning 15 years (XV anos) – as an atmospheric organ leads the way to its centrepiece, a compelling riff, the drum track being the result of a redeveloped Yo La Tengo sample.
The stripped-back approach seems to have worked wonders for Duress, although shoegaze heavy fans may feel a little cheated. Songs seem more carefully crafted and, well, visible as obvious barriers are partially removed, leaving an album that marks a fine development in Froth’s career, albeit an unexpected one.