Youthful electro solo act frYars (Ben Garrett) here offers us his debut long player, after the well-received The Ides EP – released in 2007 when he was just 18 – and this Spring’s The Perfidy EP, both of which featured tracks that are also now included on the album.�� An album which, if truth be told, is something of an oddity.
Its strangeness rests chiefly in the combination of a range of vocal quirks and some distinctly peculiar lyrical themes and moods.� Garrett’s voice goes from an overripe, cheesy baritone (Visitors, Anands Trunk Railway) to a strained falsetto (the weird coda/digression bit tacked onto Of March, and also found in other tracks like Happy and Morning), with the often over-emoted words sometimes sounding exaggeratedly English, but at other times foreign in their pronunciation: as in the “I was knocked down” line in Of March, or “Good job for you I wasn’t born a killer” from The Ides.
These vocal stylings sit neatly within a musical setting that is synth-based, bar the occasional atmosphere-enhancing deployment of piano, and very 1980s in feel. This is particularly noteable on Lakehouse, Visitors and Olive Eyes, but evidenced on pretty much every track here.� The particular kind of ’80s electro that is being replicated here could, at the time, often come over as impersonal, unfeeling, teutonic and ultimately unsympathetic; and so, again, it is in frYars’ rendering.� Garrett paints himself, or the characters he is portraying, in a frankly dislikeable light, with much of the material shot through with a strong suggestion of an over-active ego and cold megalomania.
He mentions the “painful curse of (…) ego” on the album’s opener Jerusalem, and then goes on to give further evidence of this in the “choirs [that] were singing my name” (Of March), reference to others as “simpletons” (Anands Trunk Railway) and an offhand, arrogant dismissal of his own faults and mistakes with an airy “Oh girl, I won’t beg for forgiveness / To err is divine” (Olive Eyes).
Many references to family ties also pepper the album, but again these are more troubling than cosy, viz “Do you sometimes wish that your siblings were miscarried?” (Happy), or the miserable, neglected eponymous heroine in The Novelist’s Wife (“You told your wife that she is ugly”).� Elsewhere there is a general darkness that pervades, with a sense of mortality and the imminence of death: from almost-murder-ballad The Ides (“I put a gun to her head” and “Good job for you I wasn’t born a killer”), to the suicide referencing Of March (“Finally killing yourself / Remember me), to Anands Trunk Railway’s exclamation “Don’t you know you’re going to die”.
It isn’t that Dark Young Hearts is a bad album.� The better tracks (Jerusalem, The Ides, The Novelist’s Wife, Anands Trunk Railway) have a way with a melody and enough arresting lyrical content to keep a listener interested.� It is rather that the music produced is, more often than not, easier to admire than to like, or engage with on any emotional (rather than purely intellectual) level.� This is surprising, since the opposite accusations are perhaps more likely to be levelled at other similarly youthful acts (all emotion and no depth), and points to an interesting future as Garrett, and his songwriting, matures.� For now, though, Dark Young Hearts can perhaps best be considered a troubling, worthy yet ultimately unloveable misfire.