Pop records are like babies: no matter how quick and magical the moment of conception might be, the birth is usually a long and messy process, and you never quite know what’s going to come out of the other end.
This is the kind of observation Pop Lifer would once have confidently made based on exactly zero first hand knowledge, but in the case of “Between” – the third record from the stubborn, stupidly gifted Vince Turner (AKA Frankmusik) – we actually know what we are talking about for once.
We were halfway through a long and intense interview with Vince late last year when he made one of his characteristically impulsive decisions and scrapped his planned third record in front of us. Instead of the mellow, mid-tempo suite of piano ballads he’d already written in LA, Vince had a new twinkle in his eye. Inspired by a new track he’d just written called “Captain”, he conceived of a more jittery, European and electronic record – one rather more like Vince himself and rather less like his false step of a second record.
We half expected him to change his mind again before we got on the bus back home, but he didn’t and now, nearly six months later, “Between” has finally popped out into the world. In between Vince has stayed in regular contact, sharing his bottomless enthusiasm at finally making a record which is entirely his own, with every blip and note created, sung or played himself. He was like an expectant mother sharing all the miracles of pregnancy, except interesting.
The process proved two things to us. First, that modern music technology is little less than miraculous (the fact that Vince made such a lavish, sumptuous record in his tiny Croydon studio with little more than a Mac and a mic staggers us). Second, that Vince’s talent has never been so obvious, so boundless as it is right now.
Over the first three months of the year it became a regular thrill to wake up and find an email with a new Frankmusik song attached. We remember the first time we heard a slice of “Cake!”, which was even more delirious and ditzy than it is now, and the first time we heard a nascent, dreamy demo of a song called “Chasing Shadows”, which we realised was not only unlike anything he’d done before, but probably his greatest song yet.
So, no, we aren’t unbiased about “Between”. You can consider all of the above as our full disclosure. But we wouldn’t have been objective about this record even if we’d never met its maker – this is exactly the kind of eccentric, original, restless pop record that we always lose our head over. We loved Frankmusik with a partisan passion from the moment we heard his patchy but brilliant debut, “Complete Me”, but we think “Between” is better, bolder and brighter. Or, as BML on the popjustice forum said within hours of its release “quite the triumph, this album.” Or, as iRyan put it, “wow, this album sounds fucking incredible”.
There are eleven reasons why “Between” may be the pop album of the year.
1. Chasing Shadows
As unexpected an opening salvo as you could expect from an electro pop star like Frankmusik, Chasing Shadows is a slow burning epic. Floating from the speakers on a melancholy sea of rippling synth, Vince’s frail, heartbroken vocal takes flight slowly, then soars higher, then higher, then higher still. The sad, suggestive lyrics – about losing faith, about finally seizing the thing you thought you wanted and then watching it turn to dust in your hands – announce an underlying sadness that never entirely leaves “Between”, though the sheer beauty of the melody makes the song life affirming in spite of itself.
Any fears after Chasing Shadows that Frankmusik is abandoning pop are stomped on by Map. Though building from the same mournful synths as its predecessor, a brilliantly deployed vocal hook (like a ghostly echo of Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love), an irresistible momentum and a small thermonuclear of a chorus make Map Vince’s most swaggering pop song yet. Little wonder Perez Hilton proceeded to wet himself all over the Internet over it. So should you…
If Map was the sound of Frankmusik revving up, Cake! is the sound of him hurtling at 100mph down the pop highway, barely in control of his vehicle. An utterly irresistible concoction of J-pop fizz, demented beats and an overdose of manic melodies, its proof that Vince is one of a handful of pop singers who has a sound that is entirely and distinctively his own. In a more right thinking, right listening universe, you would hear songs like this on the radio all the time and say “oh, that sounds very Frankmusik”.
The pop thrills keep coming with Captain, a pivotal song for the record. This is the song Vince wrote when he first arrived back in London from his tricky LA years, and it’s a masterclass in what makes his music so addictive: jittery electronica, scampering beats and more solid gold hooks than Girls Aloud managed to scrounge together for the whole of their last record. 2013 will be lucky if it’s treated to a more exhilarating pop moment than the “oh-oh-ah-woh-oh-oh” ad libbing at the 3 minute mark.
5. Pins & Needles
After the delirium, the deep breath. Opening with a gospel-tinged sigh, Pins & Needles slowly reveals itself as a swirling electronic melodrama. Over the song’s description of relationship claustrophobia and control, synths shudder, pianos plunge and strings scream, but it’s Vince’s tour de force vocal that really pins the listener down. So much has been made of Vince’s past as a piano prodigy that not many people have noticed him turn into one of the best, most assured and versatile pop vocalists we have.
6. Fast As I Can
Another dizzying switch in tempo, to the swaggering electro groove of Fast As I Can. First released in 2012, it’s been sprinkled with pop fairy dust for the album version and sounds brighter, crunchier and sleeker. Melodically and emotionally, Fast As I Can isn’t the most substantial song on “Between”, but it is one of the sharpest sonically. Not one of these songs sounds like any of the others, unlike most modern pop albums, which often sound like very minor variations on a single formula. “Between” is like a bright, glitzy, day glo fairground, with every ride designed to thrill in a different way.
7. Life (Is My Revenge)
In which metaphor, this one is the waltzer. The last song written for the album, Life (Is My Revenge) is what we used to call a banger back in the day. Anchored by a relentless synth riff, the verses are mournful and uncertain, before Vince delivers a huge slamdunk of a chorus. A song about triumph and vindication, which manages to sound like triumph and vindication
8. How Do We Know
Another abrupt shift in tempo, this stark piano duet with Cara Salimando pulls the listener down onto a velvety bed. Vince surrenders much of the song to Salimando’s off-kilter ache of a voice, but his tender croon and plaintive piano anchors the song. One of those duets where the creative chemistry is audible, and perhaps the album’s simplest and most simply gorgeous moment.
Sustaining the sweetness and simplicity for a moment, Stronger is Vince’s most intimate performance of the album, just the pop singer and his piano and a plaintively pretty song. At this point the listener should be realising that “Between” is that incredibly old fashioned creation: a proper, consistent pop album with no filler.
10. Did Love
After the moody introspection of the previous songs, Did Love is like sunshine breaking through clouds, and is the album’s peak of pure poppiness. The verse skips along like Gene Kelly in Singin’ In The Rain, courtesy of a brilliantly catchy piano riff, while the chorus is like an explosion of pure sunshine. We can also testify that unlike most dementedly catchy songs, Did Love doesn’t wear out its welcome after a lot of repeat plays.
11. Final Song
Vince returns one last time to the heartbreak that fuels “Between” and gives it its emotional weight, and transforms it into a musical tour de force. Sonically, Final Song is absolutely gorgeous, and melodically it sounds like the kind of song Justin Timberlake used to sing before he got mired in marijuana and movies. A riveting climax to a riveting record, one which finally delivers on all the hype that surrounded Frankmusik when he first emerged. Vince once told us that he would make music no matter whether it was successful or not, but it will be pop’s loss if “Between” doesn’t find the audience it deserves.