REVIEW: Frugal Father - Held EP

Raquel Dalarossa

Is there such a thing as bedroom electro-pop? In theory, it seems counterintuitive to fuse danceable beats and crunchy bass with lo-fi vocals and earnest lyrics, but Frugal Father’s music makes these seemingly incompatible elements play like wine and chocolate. The project, from Oakland-based Mac Welch, is still finding its legs in some ways, but a new four-track EP hints at a wellspring of compelling sounds and ideas.

Held is Frugal Father’s second short release, following 2013’s All You Get which included the purely electronic “Red Headed Hipster.” At the time, Welch was steeped in indie pop, having worked with Los Angeles’ StaG and later touring as a roadie with the likes of Youth Lagoon. It’s clear he has since refined his approach to his solo work, and certainly expanded upon the All You Get demos. In Held, we hear Welch pressing against the tensile boundaries of his songwriting and production, but the whole EP retains a lo-fi, homegrown aesthetic. Fittingly, Frugal Father has moved houses to the experimental arts and music collective Stereocure for this latest release, out today.

Opening with the most accessible of the four tracks, “Bottled Beings,” Held starts off as rather conventional electronic pop, easing its way from ambient to punchy and wholly appropriate on a dance floor. The track is armed with pointed words, though—it closes with the lines “If you were mad / Then you should’ve spoke up / Now it’s too late.” Abrupt endings become a pattern in this EP, adding to an overall theme of dissatisfaction and lack of resolution.

Welch also prominently employs repetitive ticking and clicking sounds (most evident in “Bad Lover”) that give his songs a distinctly twitchy feel. The EP’s second track, “Dirty Kids,” couples a catchy xylophone riff with cheeky lyrics like "I would never not trade nothing for something with you / And if I am to tell you nothing it's cause nothing is true.” The closing track “Lucid,” meanwhile, evolves from upbeat and cheery to heavy, even aggressive towards its end, much like a dream-turned-nightmare.

Overall, Held occupies a space that is informed as much by LCD Soundsystem and Joy Division as it is by old-school hip hop and freak folk. At first listen, the songs feel familiar, like a well-trodden path, but Welch subverts expectations with quite a bit of subtlety to avoid the off-putting sense that too much experimentation can yield. But it leaves us wondering about Frugal Father’s next steps—hopefully a full-length release is in store that will provide a lot more insight into what Welch truly intends for the project. Will he veer further into offbeat territory or maintain his inviting accessibility? Until then, Held is just enough of both.