The Lucksmiths - First Frost
Scott Telfer 01/12/2008
Like what I imagine makes up quite a significant proportion of their UK fanbase, I first came to hear about The Lucksmiths through the comedian Daniel Kitson. To quickly tell the story: Kitson was playing a run of shows at the Melbourne Comedy Festival a few years ago, but shortly before going on stage one night, he received a phone call from his girlfriend back home to say that she was breaking up with him. The understandably distraught Kitson, rather than cancel the night's gig or simply take refuge in the show's well worn script, went out and produced what many present described as one of the most achingly memorable evenings that they would ever bear witness to, with Kitson at times rolling on his back crying his eyes out. Marty Donald from The Lucksmiths was in the audience that evening and was so inspired by what he had seen, he wrote the song A Hiccup in Your Happiness (first line “the start is the hardest part/to step inside and announce a newly broken heart”) about it. Kitson loved the song and went on to write the linear notes for its EP release and would occasionally mention how much he liked the band during his shows. What with him being the type of comedian who inspires far more than laughter from his fans, many, including myself, would go out and investigate the band.
Sorry. That went on a bit didn't it? But I think it was a story worth telling. I'll get on to the review proper now.
The Lucksmiths are unapologetically twee, but not in the same deliberate way as, say, Los Campesinos! (despite what you may think of song titles like The National Mitten Registry). Leaning more to the Belle and Sebastian end of the scale (I can't believe there's actually a need for a scale of twee-ness now) they excel at writing songs that you can take as being as throwaway or as serious as the mood takes you. Deciding to take a slightly different approach to recording of this, their 9th album, they decamped to a secluded cabin in the middle of Tasmania with producer Chris Townsend.
The result is hardly a radical departure, the gentle hooks and lilting guitars are all still present, but “First Frost” does live up to its name in terms of the overall vibe: it's a colder, more difficult album to get into than most of its predecessors, and it takes several listens before it fully reveals its gentle charms. This is the first time that all four band members have contributed songs to an album, and on this evidence it's hard to think of another band, with the exception of Teenage Fanclub perhaps, where all members have such an ear for melody, and it's testament to the amount of time that they've been playing together that this album holds together so well.
The immediate stand-out here is A Sobering Thought (Just When One Was Needed), which is a lesson is storytelling through song, a simple tale of catching up with an old friend and ending up going for a sneaky swim in a private pool that will stick in your head for a long time. California in Popular Song is another highlight, its gentle but driven backdrop and melancholy lyrics (“But I think it's only fair to warn you/all those songs about California lied”) make it as good as anything in their extensive back catalogue. Lyrically the record is as twistingly humorous as we've come to expect form the band, “But it feels good for goodness' sake/to have owned up to all my mistakes/and be looking for new ones to make” from Up with the Sun is a perfect example.
In all honesty First Frost doesn't quite match up to “Naturaliste” or “Warmer Corners”, both of which are fantastic albums. Some slightly stricter editing could have resulted in a couple of the poorer songs from the second half of the album being lost (the average Song of the Undersea perhaps?), thus raising the overall standard and reducing its lengthy running time. But it's still a pretty good album, and only serves to confirm this band's status as an antipodean gem that far too many people are missing out on.