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Music Tells A Story – Can You Hear It?

March 24th 2016

No Depression, March 2016 – Last Danger Of Frost, the new release from Zero guitarist and co-founder Steve Kimock and his new band, is seriously intriguing… On the second or third listen – and yes, it absolutely sucks you back in for more – pieces begin tumbling together, forming a cohesive whole, a hint at a larger picture, sketched out in tones and angles beyond the conventional “once upon a time”.

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Advance Warning: Rather than try for a nice simple breakdown, this is going to go slightly off the nice, clearly marked paved road. Let’s start with a couple of statements:

Last Danger Of Frost, the new release from Zero guitarist and co-founder Steve Kimock and his new band, is seriously intriguing. It is also not immediately accessible, at least not on the first listen. It’s in good company on that one – the last album I reacted to in just this way was Richard Thompson’s Grammy-nominated Dream Attic.

Still, not all albums that don’t invite you in on the first knock merit another knock. This one definitely does.

The first listen-through left me scratching my head, while knowing quite well that I was about to go back in and listen again, to see what was what, here. On the second or third listen – and yes, it absolutely sucks you back in for more – pieces begin tumbling together, forming a cohesive whole, a hint at a larger picture, sketched out in tones and angles beyond the conventional “once upon a time”.

Frost opens with one of the most exquisite liquid cascades of acoustic playing I’ve heard in a long time. The first four songs are called “Music Tells A Story”, parts 1 through 4, each with its own subtitle. Part 1 is subtitled ‘The Old Man’, and here comes the first hint that the story the music is telling is going to be madly different from ear to ear, belly to belly, spirit to spirit. Because while Kimock may have been playing and hearing an old man, that wasn’t the story I was melting into. I found myself in a tree, somewhere in the Blue Ridge mountains, hands made of wood, in a place where people still brew their own whiskey in the back of beyond and secrets hang like mist over everything. In my story, I heard a dryad, watching invisibly, listening to all those secrets.

Part 2 is called Twelve Is Good and it takes the theme and expands it, giving it a heartbeat, an underlying rhythm that states and restates and diverts and then returns. Again, I have no idea what Kimock was hearing when he played it, but I heard the rush of seasons passing, long shadows across fields in the spring, outlines blurring under the first fall of snow. Twelve months? Twelve years old again? No idea. I only know what the story was in my own ears.

So. Having veered off the paved road, I came to my first speedbumps: Parts 3 and 4, subtitled ‘Big Sky’ and ‘Please Be Seated’ respectively. Having listened to those, I found the only two things on Frost that bounced off me, rather than inviting me in: there was a sense of playing with tones, of digital sound effects, to try for – something. Unluckily, that’s not where I live, either as a storyteller or as a listener, and the result was me having to walk away from it from a few minutes. Mind you, that impatience is purely idiosyncratic to me: both tracks are strong, they’re very present and they compel the attention. My failure to react to them beyond the cerebral is just a matter of my own need to process music viscerally. Those two, for whatever reason, had no stories to tell me.

So I went back for listen number three, verified my own growing love for the first two tracks and accepted that three and four probably weren’t going to do it for me. And then I got hit with the rest of it, and it’s absolutely stone gorgeous, straight through to the end.

“Variant” is a soft spring shower, a short piece that offers a footbridge over a bubbling stream. “Surely This Day” gives as gentle a kiss from the slide guitar as it’s possible to get. That’s followed by “Surely This Day Reprise”, and the guitar here turns you back and forth between the shadowed places of the woods and the wider road. It’s a choice that you, the listener, get to make.

And now, having been and gone and done all of it, Kimock offers up the comfort zone of an old, old friend, with the loveliest version of the classic Zero tune “Tongue ‘n Groove” I’ve ever heard. I melted into it, with the clear sense that this was a homecoming. It’s a safe house, a feather bed, inviting you in. There’s rainwater on the window outside and it doesn’t matter, because you’re inside the song, safe and warm. If the music tells a story, this one is a lullaby.

Then, just when you’re safely tucked up, we hit “The Artist Dies And Goes To Hell”. The story here is a single guitarist onstage with an entire club talking over the guitar, ignoring it, glasses clinking, voices drowning out everything, obliviousness abounding. Anyone who has ever played a club is familiar with this particular edition of Hell.

That leads the listener into the penultimate and title track on the album, “Last Danger Of Frost”. There’s a sense of trying to regulate one’s breathing, and at this point, one song away from the end of it, I realise that the order of songs must have been very deliberately chosen.

So I take a deep breath and hit the final song, “My Favorite Number”, and it’s a killer. Simple, just building tones structured around a simple descending riff in B, but the slide comes in and rides it, emphasis points and deeper echoes. This is the door closing.

Last Danger Of Frost is not so much a straight LP as it is an invitation into movement, a call from the woods and the seasons moving. This is one I’m going to be listening to over and over again, and finding a new “once upon a time” every time.

–Deborah Grabien

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