By Jamie McNamara
Arts & Crafts
Even when they were still Dirty Frigs, Toronto quartet FRIGS stood out amongst a crowded field of chorus-pedal-loving, grunge-indebted post-punk bands from the nation’s biggest city.
Led by frontwoman Bria Salmena, the band built their name off a raucous live show and two solid EPs (the self-titled EP Dirty Frigs and 2016’s Slush EP after changing their name).
Now, after signing with the stalwart indie label Arts & Crafts, the band return with their proper debut Basic Behaviour. Like their previous EPs, the album was produced over a 16-month period in the band’s home studio, with supplementary production at Union Sound Company in Toronto. The result is an album that has flourishes of experimentalism without losing any of its urgency.
On songs like the opener “Doghead,” brittle guitar tones chime with chorus while effects wash throughout and drones swell underneath. Even on the most straightforward tracks, something in the background is always lurking in the swampy exterior.
Much of Basic Behaviour is slow-tempo, shambling along in its gothic atmospheres, but when the band speeds up it’s all the more noticeable. “Talking Pictures,” for instance, is a motorik dirge that encapsulates much of what makes FRIGS so compelling: skronky, tightly-wound guitars, propulsive drums and a vocal performance from Salmena that oscillates between quiet speak-singing and blood-curdling wails.
Here, and on much of the album, Salmena reminds of Kim Gordon. Her poetic delivery is rarely melodic, instead serving as a gravel texture that anchors the rest of the band. This is especially true on “Solid State,” a song that could serve as the sister record to Sonic Youth’s “Tunic (Song for Karen),” complete with a droning guitar outro that feels pulled directly out of the band’s late-‘80s heyday.
The comparisons to Sonic Youth don’t just stop at the band’s sonic identity, but in their ability to craft a singular mood throughout the album. Basic Behaviour is a bleak, distressing listen for most of its runtime, but that doesn’t mean it’s ever a slog. Songs never overstay their welcome and as much of the album feels dour and minor-key, songs like “Gemini” offer brief moments of relative levity. It’s a synth-heavy ballad that wouldn’t feel completely out of place on Angel Olsen’s recent output.
Of course, “Gemini” is followed up by the album’s centerpiece “I” and “II,” the two tracks that find the band at their most outright post-punk. The latter song sounds like a Savages’ track with Johnny Marr filling in on guitar. It’s a possessed stomp that sees the band at their least optimistic. “This is shit / Just admit it / Just admit it / This is shit,” Salmena repeats in her most dissatisfied on the album.
“Trashyard,” a song that’s been floating around the internet since 2016, feels like a ‘60s psychedelic tune sent through a Ouija board and come back through the other side. Like much else on the album, it’s been reworked and perfected into a meticulous, seven-minute trudge through murky atmospheres. It feels like a Preoccupations song in a benzo haze, ending with Salmena reaching her vocal apex, no longer annunciating anything, instead offering full-throated guttural shouts.
As the last song on the album, it’s as if FRIGS have finally arrived at the destination they’ve been working towards the past five years. As with the rest of Basic Behaviour, it’s a well-earned victory lap that builds off the band’s previous output to arrive with a compelling conclusion.arts & crafts, Basic Behaviour, Frigs