Frisbie is not an intentional misspelling of the Wham-O flying disc but the last name of one of the founders — singer/guitarist Steve Frisbie. Similar to the Posies, Chicago’s Frisbie wields pop power relying heavily on vocal harmonizing. After generating buzz with their 2000 debut, The Subversive Sounds of Love, they lost their momentum when drummer, songwriter and co-founder Zack Kantor’s struggles with bipolar disorder jeopardized his involvement with the band. But the band found a way to work around that challenge.
The Subversive Sounds of Love gets off to a gloriously punchy start with “Let’s Get Started.” The album’s most striking aspect is the beauty of Frisbie and Liam Davis’s harmonies, although keyboard and horn player Ross Bergseth helps to flesh out the pop arrangements. At times, the disc coasts on its initial rush, with songs that are pretty but not as spectacular. But it goes out on another apex. “The Shuffle” starts out in a ragtime mode with piano and banjo. The novelty instrumentation fades to the background as the song closes with lyrics like “There’s no bufferin’ / For the sufferin’.”
With Kantor’s role in doubt, period. could be a compromise but is instead an homage. Although Kantor doesn’t play on the album, it consists exclusively of his compositions. The band turns the setback to their advantage. Backed by just Davis and Frisbie on guitar and Eddie Carlson on bass, the acoustic accompaniment shows off the singers’ crystalline voices, which are surprisingly crisp for a live recording. Because these are newly recorded songs, period. eschews the usual trappings of a live album; there is little intrusion from the audience or between-song banter. “Free in C minor” thrives on contrast between the staccato verses and the soaring choruses as well as the oddball allusion to Starship’s “We Built This City.” “Free in G major” uses the same chorus but a more hushed approach to an entirely different set of verses. “Mourning Machines,” about coping with adversity, verges on platitudinous, but familiarity with Kantor’s circumstances makes period.‘s lyrics poignant. It also makes one appreciate that the band has found a way to harness Kantor’s creativity within the limitations of his mental health.
After several years spent laying low, the band reemerged with the symbolically titled New Debut. As if to emphasize the theme, it includes a new version of “Disaster,” which first appeared on Subversive Sounds. Where the original highlighted harmonies, with power now emphasized over pop, long notes are cut short here to make way for guitars. Only Frisbie and Davis remain from the earlier line-up, rounded out here by drummer Gerald Dowd and multi-instrumentalist Matt Thompson. The vibe here is altogether vintage, with falsetto vocals reminiscent of Todd Rundgren in his ’70s prime (on the opening title track), a keyboard bridge nicked from the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” (on “S.F.B.”) and the instrumentation on “Half-Breed,” which could have been lifted from Tommy. The disc wraps up on a high note with the jittery new wave “Lather,” which offers such vivid imagery as “Your head is held together with tiny rubber bands.”