Agent Fresco


Written by: TL on 17/08/2015 20:34:28

If the world was a perfect place, Iceland's Agent Fresco would be a band that way more people had heard about by now, based on the fact that in 2010, the quartet made one of the very best records in the history of reviews and beyond. The band's debut full-length "A Long Time Listening" was as close to a perfect record as it is probably possible to get, sounding completely unique apart from all bands we could even think about, and seizing the listener's attention from the first note to the last. It is as good to this day as it was five years ago, which, however, brings us to the bittersweet observation that 10/10 is possibly the worst grade to have gotten for your previous record when your next one comes around. So far, few bands have even been in consideration for a 10/10 on our site, let alone for a repeat, and so, there are two dominant ways listener's are probably going to experience Agent Fresco's long awaited second opus "Destrier":

For those who come upon the band for the first time, there is ample opportunity to still have your jaw meet the floor. The band's mix of chilly Scandinavian atmospheres with delicate, wavering singing and complex, Biffy Clyro-esque, show-off-ish rhythmical components is still the only one of its kind. Singer Arnor Dan's voice weaves elegantly in between dramatic piano pieces that bring Muse to mind, as well as mysterious ambiances of the likes of Mew, and hard-hitting bass and guitar injections that can at times even seem djenty, somewhat like VOLA.

The style in itself is still otherworldly then, which is indeed likely to leave newcomers taken aback. But at the same time anyone who has heard the band's debut will likely be coming into "Destrier" with completely unreasonable expectations. And frankly, and admittedly unsurprisingly, Agent Fresco do not even really come close to stringing a performance together that feels as inspired and uncompromising as the adventurous, free-flowing, art-rock epic that was "A Long Time Listening".

The main reason for this is that it feels too obvious that the band has made a career decision and opted to focus on more clear-cut choruses, which makes sense, because "A Long Time Listening" was anything but a widely accessible entry-level listen. The band still employs ridiculous time signatures and winding verse melodies, but in all the stand out tracks you feel the clear division at the predictable moment of "okay, now it's chorus time". Be it "Dark Water", "Destrier", "Wait For Me" or "See Hell", it is the same impression, which makes Agent Fresco sound all of the sudden like they play by the same rules as other bands, and thus, somewhat less fantastic than before.

With that being said, they still deliver passages of utterly enthralling music, especially in the verses, where they still sound very much creative and explorative. "Dark Water" at track two is an early example, where Arnor Dan's narrative rises upon a lively beat and a dramatic piano part, yet the chorus feels a bit tame. A good exception is also at hand in the album's second single "See Hell", which is far and away its best song. It is primarily here that we get a song that just lays you low from start to finish, commencing with a truly great signature riff, yet adjusting the suspense perfectly moving across the cantering verse and chorus and really getting in your head with the bridge refrain repeating "To condemn or to crown?"

Other tracks of merit include the mellower "Wait For Me", which offers a devilishly infectious refrain, as Arnor Dan wonders about the Danish friends he left when he settled on Iceland and focused on his music: "Have I been giving you up for more? Have I been giving you up for more?". "Howls" will get old fans riled up for a moment, offering a brief injection of the booming guitar parts that lifted songs like "Translations" and the title track of the previous record. Similarly, for those aching for an edgier Agent Fresco, "The Autumn Red" is a likely dark horse of a song, offering a darker mood and more focus on the abrupt riffage the band has in its arsenal.

Having heard "A Long Time Listening" though, it's hard not to think of it as an unbridled stallion, thrashing about freely as a result of excessive musical creativity, and by comparison "Destrier" is indeed more of a trained beast, where the muscle and the wildness is still there to be heard, but the animal is tamed and brought in line, supposedly in preparation of an attempt to break through to the wider audiences Agent Fresco have long deserved. It feels particularly disappointing to find that a lot of experimentation has been relegated to the album's back end, following "Let Fall The Curtain" at track ten, which actually sounds like it would be a good place to end. Instead, we get stuff like "the token heavy track" in "Angst" and "the token ambient track" in "Death Rattle", which feel a bit like exercises meant to show us that Agent Fresco still has rebellion in them, but isolated back here they just seem a bit left over and pointless.

"Destrier" then, is far from a perfect album, which is, however, most painfully apparent simply because of its near-perfect predecessor. If it weren't for "A Long Time Listening", we would likely join in talking about how good and unusual "See Hell", "Destrier" and "Wait For Me" are as tracks, while also spending even more time on the details of "The Autumn Red" and "Dark Water". And if you were employed with the band's management, label or PR agency, you'd likely be thrilled that they have made an album front-loaded with songs that bring across more easily what the band is capable of. But from the reviewer's chair, the reins heard on the previously so magnificent beast, sound as restraining as they are. And such it seems is the inevitable curse of trying to follow up on a truly great album. In conclusion, you should still definitely listen to "Destrier", and it is fair to expect something truly out of the ordinary as well, but if you really want to be taken for a ride, look further back to "A Long Time Listening".

Download: See Hell, Wait For Me, Destrier
For The Fans Of: Mew, Muse, VOLA, Biffy Clyro

Release date 07.08.2015
Long Branch Records

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