Method in Madness: frYars’ Dark Young Hearts


I feel like I’ve been waiting forever for London-based artist, frYars (real name: Ben Garrett) to release a full proper album. His two EPs, The Ides and The Perfidy (the latter of which I reviewed here), were fantastically dark and odd, and so I waited patiently for the debut album, Dark Young Hearts, which just released a few weeks ago, and like Patrick Wolf’s latest, was financially supported through Bandstocks. Half of the tracks on the record are actually ones I’ve heard before whether as part of EPs, or in the case of Visitors, as a free download earlier this year. Despite this pre-emption, I still really appreciate frYars’ brand of melodramatic and wonky narratives, especially since his voice is a rich, heady mixture of red wine and rohypnol, pleasantly beguiling and dangerous. And often as mad as a bag of obtuse angles. Sure, frYars could be accused of overproduction on this album, giving some of his older material a studio gloss, but I don’t think his music is of the lo-fi sort in the first place; independent should never be equated with lo-fi. His songs have always been on the pop side of the fence (perhaps pop as warped in a baroque funhouse mirror, but pop nonetheless), and the beauty of frYars’ music is where he takes you via the seemingly accessible chamber-electropop. Identities and motives are fluid and sometimes amoral, but the lyrics are captivating, and definitely not something you would find in regular, mainstream pop music. There’s a revelling in the macabre and the strange, which reminds me of the attraction of stories like Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, a place where the rules are nonsensical, but necessary.

The album opens with Jerusalem, a track that features a wobbly, singsong chorus about moving in circles and causing a desert storm. It very well might be about Middle Eastern conflict, but then again, lines like “I say no to hitchhikers, but all the same I’ll love my neighbour” points to a more abstract set of ambivalent moral codes or criticism of moral relativism. The next song, The Ides, is the one that initially got me into frYars; it is an incredibly catchy plinking piano tune full of bizarre betrayals and near murders, sounding like a possessed music box. In fact, perfidy, ambiguous good/evil dynamics, death and militarism permeate the whole album with an inky fog, a darkness that is occasionally broken with the blinding light of maniacal musings. The unsettling surreality continues with Lakehouse, in which heavy, bassy synths bolster a tale of a lakehouse “built by the mighty for the weary and the hungry.” Though frYars sings lightly about a “gold country sun,” it, along with the lakehouse, feel like an enticing mirage as the music sucks you into its icy depths of numb forgetfulness. With lyrics like “You can sleep here with your soft drinks,” it becomes a Hansel and Gretel story for the twenty-first century.

Earlier this year, the following track, Visitors, and its music video were revealed as was the fact that Dave Gahan was involved. It skips along like laser double dutch as frYars’ high, wispy falsetto crashes into the gloom of Gahan’s lower register during the chorus: “I’ve got a sickness/I think I need your help tonight.” Something sinister is still afoot, but never explicit as he sings, “for the price of a human heart/it’s not that bad.” With another nod to The Ides, Of March is a frantic piece with quick, swishing guitars and persistent piano. fryars’ vocals match the frenetic atmosphere with his warbly, vicious tones throughout the verses, and as he belts out the line “I will go down with this ship tonight,” he sounds vindicated in some skewed sense of honour and blood-mist. And the object of his song doesn’t fare much better as he asks him/her to remember him as he/she commits suicide. The album takes an acoustic, Latin turn with A Last Resort, a track that uses the gentler, croony side of his voice to sing a twisted love song. Lyrics like “When your vessel’s going nowhere, it’s time to forget the sea/when the mind is a mushroom, but the words come easily” make the song seem like a psychedelic breakdown. A couple of minutes into it, the overdubbed vocals form a chorus that sounds like a host of delirious cherubim, and in the end, it’s rather soothing.

Then former Perfidy EP track, Novelist’s Wife, slips in with another soft vocal performance that adds to the taunting madness of the song. As I’ve noted in a previous post, this song is about a wife that bakes her husband’s Hungarian mistress in a pie and feeds it to him. Narrating from the point of view of the wife, frYars sounds quite glib as he tells the husband to stay in his k-hole while the wife would rather stick to ethanol. Leaving the drug-addled world of the novelist behind, the sound of falling bombs, funhouse organ, and a grungy bassline signal the beginning of Ananas Trunk Railway. The lyrics’ gleeful expectation of death is eventually extinguished by what sounds like a control panel going bezerk in a shower of beeps and squeals.

There’s another return to the Perfidy EP with Olive Eyes, one of the most unlikely dance tracks ever composed. Its groovy synth line creates a New Wave hit out of a strange story of incest and murder. The mini-drama ostensibly ends with the green-eyed son stabbing his father/uncle with mirth. However, I dare you not to sing along with it. Reaching further back to The Ides EP, Happy features loads of distant rambling vocals, like the babbling of an overloaded mind, as the music neatly matches with an ambling, shambolic mess of drumbeats and banging keys. Some scrambled vocals that sound like burbling, insane Daleks complete the disorientation. Amidst the stream-of-consciousness verses, some of my favourite lyrics about societal moral expectations and arbitrary rules can be found:

We wage wars like Pascal waged wagers,
and its on Pascal’s wager we send sergeant majors to fight,
it would be nice if we took his triangle,
and we could find new angles more violent and wonderful,
I was thinking of saving the animals,
but first we save people (not animals),
just ’cause they’re almost as rare as love through marriage,
do you sometimes wish that your siblings were miscarried?

And people made evil,
we decide what it is and decide what it’s not,
if you do things illegal,
you can be pretty sure that it would be allowed somewhere else,
but we’re happy people,
so there’s nothing wrong with the state of things,
if it’s making you happy,
then there’s nothing wrong with the state you’re in.

Anyone who can combine the mathematical and philosophical work of Blaise Pascal with commentary on moral relativity in a pop song is truly impressive. More betrayal and older material with the next track, Benedict Arnold. The bubbling synths and crisp snare make a rather dreamy ballad of the traitor who was “bad when backs were turned.” The record concludes with the soulful Morning, which surges like stars poking through twilight. Pushing like a delicate lullaby, frYars sings, “This is all we have time for.” From time to time, the song turns into a wailing gospel tune as he groans, “Get mama help/A babe is born,” and all the gloom becomes a spiritual re-birth.

Dark Young Hearts is a potentially bewildering pop record, but the deeper you fall into it, the more it comes to follow its own set of rules, a point about caprcious ethics well-made. The music can be as unpredictable as the lyrics, but also weirdly satisfying in its genre-bending. fryars is one of those artists with a perverse sense of storytelling and the ability to create a shadowy, self-contained world with a cast of odd, but memorable characters so well-defined that they make sense. In a modern world of uncertainty and irrationality, frYars has crafted his own Gormenghast-like island, which is secure in its own methodical madness.

Of March – frYars

Happy – frYars


3 Responses to “Method in Madness: frYars’ Dark Young Hearts”

  1. 1 Rol
    October 19, 2009 at 3:23 am

    I like the sound of that. It’s gone on my list.

  2. 2 PR
    October 21, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    That’s a very good review for a very good album.

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave


So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun


Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head


Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away


Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners


Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away


You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender


I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding


You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black


Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side


Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb


Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape


Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah


And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning


My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it


Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love


We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's


Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south


Running on


As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different


LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell


Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are


You must let her go

She's not crying



Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times



Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone


Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't


So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need


The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest


Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know


No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more


All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids


Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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