Music

Lemon Jelly's Fred Deakin Aims to Make a Lasting Impression with the Lasters

Former Lemon Jelly frontman Fred Deakin uses Kickstarter to fund a pop-rock passion project, but for all its good faith efforts, it ends up an unfocused mess.

Fred Deakin Presents the Lasters
Fred Deakin

Impotent Fury

11 October 2019

Back in the day, Lemon Jelly could do no wrong. The music of the duo of Fred Deakin and Nick Franglen feels more relevant than ever. Their syrupy mid-tempo dance-pop style had thick globs of melody and even some heart stuffed in their albums. It's the kind of confection that is very much a product of the early 2000s but also is the kind of niche pop joy that is coveted by pop critics and audiophiles alike. One Mercury Music Prize nomination and three albums in, the band all but broke up, going their separate ways after their extraordinary deep dive into their record collections that was the propulsive, surprisingly-aggressive swan song '65-'95 in 2005.

Since the group's reign, founding member Fred Deakin went on to drop a litany of beloved mixes (like 2008's Nu Balearica), create a short-lived band called Flashman, and then, in May of 2019, created a Kickstarter for his new project, The Lasters. The love of Deakin and his work was so much that he ended up getting over three times as much as he originally requested. It proves that no matter how many years away he was from Lemon Jelly, the group's legacy truly lived on in the hearts of his fans.

The setup for The Lasters is ambitious. It's a pop-song story-cycle about the "last family" on Earth, wherein a man (who would go on to lead a faction called the Luddites) and a woman (who lead the opposing Technologists) had a daughter, this album marking her journey as she finds out about her past. Her story is told through spoken-word interludes and dialogue interspersed between sung passages of big pop songs, most of them handled by Abi Sinclair, playing the daughter and singing her inner-monologue.

So what does the resulting project sound like? An absolutely lovely and completely bland set of pop songs.

"I had to write myself some proper song lyrics for the first time," Deakin notes in his Kickstarter writeup, and it shows. Several songs conclude with certain characters singing their song's title over and over ad nausea -- you will certainly not forget which song is called "I Remember" and which one is called "Come to Me", rest assured. While different characters tell different songs, we truly aren't invested in any of them, which is why the album's conceit gets old very quickly. Not helping matters either is Deakin making his first-ever attempts at getting in front of the mic, his strained voiced proving to be a tough fit for the other vocalists he so loving lined up for this project.

Deakin claims to have been inspired by the Who's Quadrophenia and Harry Nilsson's The Point, but in truth, The Lasters shares the most musical and thematic DNA with the Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. The concept is loose, narrative elements are certainly there, but the story itself is best "casually absorbed" instead of being forced upon you. "There's a draft of this album which incorporates a lot more explanation and dialogue," Deakin notes, "but in the end, I decided to strip the spoken word element right back to the bare minimum and put the music at the front of the project, where it rightfully belongs." Thank gods for that.

Overall, had Deakin cut the forced, clichéd dialogue interludes themselves, the album would have a more natural flow, rollicking around in its myriad musical styles with a sense of fun instead of taking itself so seriously. Unlike say Yoshimi or even Green Day's American Idiot, The Lasters' musical palette is so locked into the same tempo and style it actually avoids true and proper cohesion as an album. While "I Remember", "Just Our Best", and the seven-minute "The End of the World" all have a laid-back peak-era Flaming Lips energy to their mid-tempo amblings, songs like "Rush" and "You Never Know" shimmer with an effervescent B-52's boogie, all shimmering guitars and tight rhythm sections. They're fun numbers, but putting the record on shuffle wouldn't affect your listening experience as much as Deakin would think.

"Through the Veil" is lead by synths straight out of a Final Fantasy level theme, adding in a new bit of texture to the proceedings, but overall, The Lasters is driven by nothing more than the notion that pleasant pop-rock is the best way to tell this story. While Deakin isn't wrong that pop songs are great at communicating tight bits of theme, he falters most in the execution of this entire concept. Like styles bleed together to create a blur of a listening experience wherein no one song stands out, and all end up in varying stages of head-bobbing agreement. There's no risk, and no dares, no bottoming out nor true consequences; it's just a pleasant little riff of a record. While there is a room in this world for records of this ilk, most of the time, listeners are treated to songs that could use more careful refinement. Could "I Remember" have been 3:30 long instead a full, needlessly-drawn-out five minutes without losing any effect? The answer is yes.

As such, Fred Deakin's The Lasters is a clear passion project, but one where the heart he put into it doesn't necessarily translate as an especially gripping or essential listen. Having worked in genre-mixing dance and electronic music for so long, the switch to writing amiable pop-rock, while seemingly well-suited for a man of his background, is something that will only work if the resulting material is sharply and concisely crafted. That's doubly so if you're attempting a rock-opera of any measure. Heck, even his beloved inspiration the Who played around with multi-song stories with the "Rael" numbers from 1967's The Who Sell Out before finally diving into a long-form narrative with 1969's Tommy. They essentially workshopped themselves right in front of their listeners and ended up delivering a masterpiece in kind.

"This is happening!" Abi Sinclair exclaims with Disney-sitcom enthusiasm during the interlude "Goodbye Father", where her generic robotic companion helps her escape her dad carrying a generic laser as she flies out in a generic spaceship to what will no doubt be a generic destination. The Lasters is a lovely, passable listen, but without any sort of refinement, real arc, or anything truly significant to say, its legacy won't be a "Lasting" one.

5


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.

Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Music

Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.

Music

Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.

Music

Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.

Music

The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.

Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.