LA trio Froth (Joo-Joo Ashworth on vocals and guitar, Jeremy Katz on bass and guitar, and Cameron Allen on drums) have toyed with the aggression of garage rock in their sound a little, but they are most at home making easy-going dream pop and shoegaze. The band actually began as a joke between Ashworth and collaborator Jeff Fribourg (who played in the band for a time and still works on its artwork and photography) and cut their teeth playing scores of house shows at DIY venues in the LA area. The high points of the three piece’s fourth full-length, Duress, off Wichita Recordings, reach your ears within an amniotic bubble of breathy vocal melodies and gentle psychedelia, or out of the ether on a particularly nice, lazy summer day in a public park. The 10-song collection is brief but gives off a cinematic glow that can hold you in thrall.
Ashworth and Tomas Dolas largely handled the production of Duress. The album opens with some straightforward rock dominated by blown-out guitars on the single “Laurel.” Its wry lyrics reference the bizarre “Laurel/Yanny” meme from last year, but Ashworth’s half-whispered vocals sound so calming that the odd sense of humor could easily slip past you. The collection’s aural vibe not only frames the songs in a beautifully indistinct light but also becomes cerebral and exploratory.
Froth can craft a good hook (see “Catalog” and “Department Head”), but they also experiment with a lot of different styles to great effect. The insistent motorik beat and growling guitars on the instrumental “A2” show they can rock hard. “77,” with dreamy vocals from Isabella Glaudini, has the cozy, percussion-driven feel of easygoing electronica. The lo-fi, tape warble-laden “John Peel Slowly” evokes early Eno, with its playful synthesizer swells and dancing, mysterious piano flourishes. But it is at the end that the album really gets you. The crashing drums and shimmering guitars on “Slow Chamber” give that epic sense of suspended animation and rapture you get from the best shoegaze and dream pop. Then, the clever lilt of “Syndrome” draws the curtain with sweet sadness, laying on the strings over hazy psychedelic textures. In Duress, Froth have crafted one of the better dream pop/shoegazing albums of the year.