The Lucksmiths bounce back with album number eleven: fourteen songs of town versus city contemplation, amongst other things…
Over the course of fifteen years and almost as many albums and international tours, the Melbourne-based Lucksmiths have penned some of the most adored songs this side of the pop underground. Their last studio album Warmer Corners, released in 2005, received much praise, most notably in the UK from Loud & Quiet who named it their second favourite album of the year, sandwiched incongruously as it was between Bloc Party and Coldplay, but also from Uncut, Drowned In Sound, Q, Word, Plan B and NME. Pitchfork summed it up thusly: “idiosyncratic but accessible, literate but unpretentious, gentle but not weak, sincere not so much in presentation as in presence”. A single from the album — The Chapter in Your Life Entitled San Francisco — found its way onto Qantas’ in-flight playlist for March 2006 — somewhat of an achievement a band with a penchant for the ridiculous and irrelevant.
This time round The Lucksmiths eschewed the sterility of the studio, and following the wisdom behind many of the songs here, headed to the rugged foothills of Tasmania’s Mt Wellington. Working with producer Chris Townend in his falling-down shack, The Lucksmiths played music and cooked soup, keeping warm by the wood-fired stove as snow fell outside and Bear the aging German shepherd scratched and yawned.
On First Frost, The Lucksmiths’ trademark lyrical hooks shine warmer than ever — and for the first time, all four members have racked up songwriting credits. Louis Richter’s opener “The Town and the Hills” sets out the album’s central theme of city v. country, while chief songwriter Marty Donald takes a sharpened pencil to the wilderness proper in “Pines”, concluding “I don’t mean to suggest I’m getting older, but the city looks its best over my shoulder”. Which is not to suggest that First Frost is The Lucksmiths’ lost emo-country masterpiece. “Song of the Undersea” (with its nods to Jonathan Richman and to John Steinbeck) has a carefree swagger and a wicked way with a melody. Similarly, “A Sobering Thought (Just When One Was Needed)” has hooks in abundance and concerns a late-night drunken escapade at a public swimming pool. Hey, why not?!
Tali White’s propulsive stripped-down drums have a new-found swing and urgency, his unmistakable clean lead vocal finding its customary place above Donald’s frantic strumming (and clean fingerpicking — a revelation here!) and Mark Monnone’s intricate, ever-bouncy basslines. And Richter’s presence is felt even more keenly on First Frost than on his Lucksmiths début, 2005’s Warmer Corners: his guitars sprawl and shimmer and occasionally roar, resulting in the most dynamic Lucksmiths album to date.
"The Lucksmiths are exactly the sort of indie-pop band that old-school indie-pop fans love, and First Frost is the sort of record that isn't going to do anything to diminish that position. It's understated, wonderfully crafted and impeccably recorded. It also comes off as if the band's completely unaware that there's a swelling movement of new fans flooding the genre. It's bedroom pop at its bedroom best.
Keepers of the Sarah Records flame, The Lucksmiths make a late bid for a spot on year-end lists with their first full-length effort in three years. That bid's led by everything we've come to expect from the band, as traces of twee creep into its hushed arrangements, a light melancholy mist settles on top of everything and singer/drummer (that's right, a singing percussionist) Tali White has enough quiet dignity to navigate everything that comes his way.
A lot comes his way. The band delivers a career-best set, with songs that run the gamut from poised orchestrated numbers full of brass and strings to bubbly rockers. It plays into every one of the band's strengths while belying any notion that the Lucksmiths are a one-trick pony. There are, of course, enough lilting acoustic-rock tracks to keep the status quo happy: "Day Three of Five" takes on a rootsy feel, thanks largely in part to a chugging rhythm section; "Good Light" comes closer to perfecting the band's trademark blend of easygoing acoustic guitars and jangly electrics.
When the band adventures out of its usual spots is where First Frost becomes the definitive Lucksmiths record. The lightest touch of string orchestration sneaks into the background of "California in Popular Song," though the balance of power's still in the jangle-pop favor. "The National Mitten Registry" takes a almost crushingly precious theme -- providing love for lost gloves and mittens -- and blends it with an arrangement that veers toward brass domination in its latter stretches. "Up with the Sun" stomps on some buzzing reverb, letting the act's usually restrained guitars run wild and free.
For 15 years, The Lucksmiths have dominated coy pop. To say First Frost tops that string of albums is an accomplishment unto itself. Jangly bedroom pop is rarely as effortless as it is on this album, rarely as independent of trends and rarely so beguiling." *****
(Matt Schild, aversion.com)
"The Lucksmiths have never released a record that was less than lovely. Since 1993 the Australian trio (now quartet) has been crafting thoughtful indie pop that warms both ears and hearts in equal measure. Filled with some of their best songs and most fully realized arrangements, 2005's Warmer Corners marked a high point in the band's career that would seem like a hard act to follow. Luckily, the band is up for the challenge on 2008's First Frost, and if it falls a little short of Warmer Corners, the album is still top-shelf Lucksmiths. The full arrangements (horns, strings, and loads of backing vocals) are here; the songs are a mix of tender ballads, chugging rockers, and introspective midtempo rambles; and Tali White's everyman vocals are as intimate and real as ever. This time out, the songwriting chores are split among the four members, with each of them focusing on tiny moments of heartbreak and spinning tales of poetic melancholy in a way that has become the band's trademark. Marty Donald turns in some truly memorable songs, "California in Popular Song" and "How We Met" chief among them, while new guitarist Louis Richter happily proves himself able to meet the high standards the band has established with his two contributions, "The Town and the Hills" and "Never and Always." Richter may also be responsible for the heavier guitar tones that appear throughout the album, giving tracks like "Up with the Sun" and "South-East Coastal Rendezvous" a jolt of rock energy. The female vocals (courtesy of Bee Rigby) on the country weeper "Lament of the Chiming Wedgebill" and the Hammond organ and cowbell (!) on "Who Turned Out the Lights?" also serve to expand the group's sonic template. These slight changes and surprises are nice, but what counts in the end are the songs and the voice that sings them -- both are in fine form, and First Frost is more of the Lucksmiths at their finest." ****
(Tim Sendra, allmusic.com)
"Winter is the perfect time for hibernation, a well-deserved rest period before springtime’s social graces. The October/November period also coincides with an avalanche of top quality releases, both local and/or general. With new albums from The Lucksmiths and The Guild League out for the new season, both of Tali White’s bands make a pleasurable return to the fold. It may seem a little cheeky to double-bank them in the one review, but it seems rather appropriate considering their similarities: they both explore new terrain and also reflect the increasingly collaborative nature of both bands.
Weather and seasons have always been prominent subjects in the masterful lyrics of The Lucksmiths, but it’s usually more of a case of T-shirt weather than first frosts. The new album, much like 2003’s Naturaliste, has a cooler bite to it than the band’s early material… which makes sense considering it was recorded in front of a wood-fired stove in a rustic shack in Tasmania.
Despite the chilly edge, First Frost has a hell of a lot of fun across its fourteen tracks and revels in diversity to a level not quite seen on previous releases. Although this is the second album to feature Louis Richter, this is the first time all four band-members contribute songs. Richter’s propulsive guitars and the “ba ba ba”s on Never & Always have more than a hint of Mid-State Orange to them, which of course is no bad thing. All four songwriters do themselves proud, but Marty Donald’s hit rate remains unchallenged, offering up album highlights A Sobering Thought (Just When One Was Needed) and California In Popular Song. There are considerably less catchy, clever lyrics across the board, but there’s a luminous depth to these new compositions that buries the need for ‘ta-dah!’ couplets."
(Chris Girdler, Beat Magazine, Melbourne Australia)
"Australian band The Lucksmiths seem destined to remain firmly rooted in the pop pigeon-hole marked ‘indie cult’. You’d think after 15 years ploughing such a lonely furrow, they’d be due at least a few minutes of fame’s usual predetermined quarter of an hour. But the inappropriately named Lucksmiths are still light years away from the big-time — despite a whole collection of top-drawer material.
Eleventh album, First Frost, generates more of the same first-class tunes boasting lean arrangements and lush textures which have been enhanced by tight, inventive musicianship and well-drilled song-writing. Genre-wise they are hard to categorise — if anything, their sound lies somewhere between The Wedding Present and Belle and Sebastian.
First Frost oozes charm throughout — with little musical gems aplenty. At times, the band veer into the old dreamy shoegazing territory of the early 1990s — tracks like the brilliant Lament of the Chiming Wedgebill are reminiscent of fellow cult band Slowdive’s finest hour, Souvlaki. Frontman Tali White’s warm understated vocals call to mind The Wedding Present’s David Gedge or Badly Drawn Boy.
But the success of this new collected works lies more in the beautiful melodies, floating harmonies and the fragrant accompaniment. The tunes are also wonderfully uncluttered and unpretentious. There is no effort at all on the part of the listener — the Lucksmiths make life very easy. All you have to do is simply lie back and enjoy. First Frost also spawns two of the Lucksmiths’ best ever tracks — the bouncy, joyous pop nugget that is South-East Coastal Rendezvous and the truly wonderful Pines.
The Lucksmiths will be hard pushed to better this exquisite collection. A quiet classic.
(Nigel Gould, Belfast Telegraph — CD of the Week)
"Indie pop, like other scenes outside rock's traditional canon, doesn't necessarily demand consistency. With a tradition of vinyl singles, small but beloved labels, and an intense sense of community, indie pop fans tend to place value on singles and EPs as much as albums. And with a decade and a half of reliably charming singles, EPs-- and, yes, albums-- the Lucksmiths are kind of like their genre's dependable go-to; they're the Hold Steady of indie pop.
You know what to expect from the Australian band's ninth album, First Frost, and as with Craig Finn & co.'s latest, Stay Positive, you also a get a few new wrinkles. Stand-up drummer Tali White sings a little bit softer now; the guitars crunch more often. But the songs-- written mostly by guitarist Marty Donald, though also by White, bassist Mark Monnone, and newer guitarist Louis Richter-- are still genial sing-alongs that bounce from languid introspection to scrappy exuberance. Covering familiar subjects like the weather, drinking, geography, and quiet melancholy, they delight with catchy tunes and understated eloquence. First Frost doesn't match the peaks of 2005's Warmer Corners or last year's 45-track Spring a Leak compilation, but it comes close.
Recorded in Tasmania with Chris Townend, the album continues a gradual sonic exploration: Horns and glam-rock swagger help Donald's "A Sobering Thought (Just When One Was Needed)" clear its head, while an unexpectedly grinding guitar solo lets White's acoustic "Up With the Sun" move beyond "a time when every lunch was breakfast." Monnone's "South-East Coastal Rendezvous" comes about as close to the wavy guitarscapes of Strawberry Wine-era My Bloody Valentine as the Lucksmiths probably ever will, evocatively concluding, "Here's to who knows what" (alas, not "when"). Strings nicely adorn slower songs like Richter's opening "The Town and the City" and Donald's similarly themed "Pines". "I don't mean to suggest I'm getting older/ But the city looks better over my shoulder," goes the latter.
If it sounds like the Lucksmiths that wrote happy-go-lucky songs like "Under the Rotunda" and "T-Shirt Weather" have grown up...well, they have, but their craft has matured, too. They still "drink and laugh and eat," as on Monnone's folkier, slightly drab "Day Three of Five". Only now they're left to ask themselves, "Why did you get drunk" in Donald's mournful, country-tinged duet with female vocalist Bee Rigby, "Lament of the Chiming Wedgebill". No, wait, it's the chiming wedgebill who's asking.
Most admirably, First Frost finds the Lucksmiths continuing to put out quietly ambitious records that could be enjoyed by almost anybody who loves music-- not just indie pop partisans. "California in Popular Song" is the best song on the album, but it's not a difficult critic's favorite; either you'll love the trebly guitar interplay, White's tender phrasing, Donald's vivid storytelling about someone leaving for an imagined California, and delicate turns of phrase like "your eyes are wet with wine," or you'll listen to something else. Yes, I realize the poetically arranged SAT-word sing-along that ends Donald's gorgeous "The National Mitten Registry" is waaay too precious for the Hot 100. But as White sings: "Fingers crossed/ All is not lost." The Lucksmiths still drink; they haven't dried up, and it doesn't sound like they're going to crumble into dust anytime soon."
(Marc Hogan, Pitchfork)
"...you could be forgiven for failing to realise that Melbourne royalty The Lucksmiths had even released their 11th album, despite the fact that First Frost (Lost and Lonesome/MGM) is amongst the strongest of their catalogue. The stunning ‘How We Met’ is one the most economical and downright moving love sketches of the year."
(Dan Rule, The Vine — excerpt from "Language Studies" article)
"Aussie Janglers add dash of bitter to their sweet indiepop
Now 15 years and 11 albums into their itinerant career, these blithely spirited Melbourne indie-pop types seem to be growing up. The T-shirt weather of early albums now feels the chill wind of winter in July, Tali White’s warm voice seems more rugged and even the tweely-titled “National Mitten Registry” is a desolate, derelict little number. But the sobriety suits them, moving them on from their punny, Flight Of The Conchords tendencies. On tracks like the lovely “Pines”, First Frost suggets The Lucksmiths are picking up the mantle of Grant McLennan." ****
(Stephen Troussé, Uncut)
"Melbourne's The Lucksmiths are a band to whom, by now, the phrase 'return to form' means nothing at all. If your 'form', such as it is, means consistently churning out breezy indie-pop intricacies and curios over the course of eleven LPs with a gradually rising bar of quality, then your 'form' such as it is cannot possibly be returned to. The tendency among commentators is to assert journalistic authority and say 'No! Truly, this is the finest Lucksmiths LP so far," whenever one is released. As it stands, First Frost probably isn't their finest, but that means nothing when your 'form', such as it is - you understand. There are musical elements that mark something of a small explosion for the band. Louis Richter is finally felt on the guitar and makes excellent melodic contributions throughout, implicitly adding another line to the mix with surprisingly far-reaching results (hear his mournful, sweet plod on The National Mitten Registry). The extra instrumental arrangements have also reached a new level of crisp accomplishment, particularly demonstrable on the opening The Town And Hills (incidentally a Richter-penned number). After waiting for almost too long, the simplistic guitars open up into a cascading collection of horns and strings too pretty to render the first half of the song frustrating. Neat trick. Because it's a Lucksmiths record, there's a great deal of lyrical bite to explore too, often the gift of Marty Donald. The drawn-out rhyme scheme and elaborate story of A Sobering Thought is impressive, but some of the gloopier moments show a slightly more wistful bent - perhaps more than before. Pines is seasonal duality, sleepy sentiment and its perfect musical accompaniment, and a lovely moment among many. The sleeve and inlay are pure cutesy understatement - various ranch-like scenes of the band at work and play. This affords the listener a strange connection with First Frost. We see The Lucksmiths in absolutely no danger, no rush and with no pressures whatever. These, you might argue, are conditions not best suited to ripping studio sessions, but they provide a rare accompaniment. Leafy vistas in both scene and lyric mirror the music itself with fine taste. But that's their form, as we've discussed. Contented authors, muted discomfort in the lyrics, subtle tweaks of musical formulae; The Lucksmiths have done it again and created their finest LP so far, you might say."
"The Lucksmiths have been one of my favorite bands for many, many years. Ever since I first heard 1997's A Good Kind Of Nervous, I've been infatuated with their folky goodness. They've made some truly stellar albums and EPs throughout their 15 year career, and with that being said, their new album, First Frost, may be the best album they've ever made. Songwriting-wise, the Lucksmiths always capture their personality -- the music is fun, it's clever, it's catchy, it's beautiful. But arranging wise, sonically speaking, their latest offering is far and above what they've done in the past. Part of it is due to their progression from acoustic to electric; it's not that they've dropped acoustic guitars, but their sound is definitely more electric this time around, and it suits them well. Never before have I heard a song from them with such beautiful feedback laced around their always captivating songwriting, so powerful that I smile. Listen to "How We Met" and you will understand. The Lucksmiths have always held a place in my heart, but with First Frost, they've never been better. If you haven't been captivated by them yet, now is the time."
(Sound Salvation Army)
"With their first long player in three years, Melbourne’s finest, The Lucksmiths, continue from where they left off with the magnificent Warmer Corners, by powering their way down the path of producing poetic indie pop for those of a positive and perceptive persuasion. Recorded in a ramshackle shed, surrounded by pots of soup and log burning fires, The Lucksmiths have once again succeeded in making intelligent pop and well thought out melodies seem as simplistic and natural as their surroundings. Stand out tracks include California In Popular Song with its 50’s lead guitar line and the clumping of subversive college rock that is South-East Coastal Rendezvous.
First Frost is the perfect antidote to the winter blues, with tales of missing mittens and arrangements of balmy brass thawing the coldest of hearts. The fact that The Lucksmiths now have four songwriters competing for kudos helps to deliver diversity throughout the album of varying sounds with melancholy and humour. It’s fair to say that as far as underground jangly guitar pop goes, The Lucksmiths are more than on top of their game and provide a shining beacon to all of their luminaries." *****
(Rob Sampson, NARC)
"The Lucksmiths are a Sunday morning band. You put them on while you read the paper, drinking coffee, lounging with your beloved. This is not necessarily a new idea I’ve posed, but one I’m reminded of each time a new album of theirs is presented to me. They are lovely, considerate people, and a sincere band with a consistent voice that continues to evolve even now, nearly 15 years since their first release.
On their new album, for which they went into virtual seclusion in Tasmania, off the coast of their native-Australia, they depart from their solidly pop catalogue to venture out of bounds with some surprising results. “Never and Always” has a riff that veers into Queens of the Stone Age territory. This is one of Louis Richter’s songs (the other being “The Town and the Hills”) and it is a solid addition to the mix.
Part of the greatness of this album is that thematically, it really works. Overwhelmingly, I got a Laurel Canyon vibe from the more mellow songs, namely “California in Popular Song.” Moreover, “Who Turned on the Lights” has a pastoral feel with an opening Van Morrison might have done.
“Southeast Coastal Rendezvous” has big fuzz guitars which are a welcome addition, combined with ubiquitous tambourine. “Lament of the Chiming Wedgebill,” a country-like duet with Bec Rigby (The Harpoons) took some getting used to, but there’s a heaviness to her voice that’s a good foil for Tali White’s. “National Mitten Registry” could be a sweet, but not saccharine, lullaby for a friend’s newborn. “Song of the Undersea,” adapted from John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, has a rambling baseline that carries the lyrics along easily.
This is not to say there aren’t moments of classic Lucksmiths on this one—“Good Light” feels like a new incarnation of “Camera Shy” (Naturaliste, 2003). “The Town and the Hills” is jangly pop with cheeky lyrics and a good heart guiding the strum. Three minutes into the song the trumpet chimes in, appropriately. I admit to missing Tali White’s usually frenetic drums on the majority of tracks, but they would be misplaced here—this is a sit-down album and Mr. White normally plays standing up.
Although the first listen to the album is a little tough if you’re a rabid fan of their uptempo stuff, First Frost is a grower, and the Lucksmiths’ exploration into new arenas is a success." ****
(Molly Dorfman, Webcuts)
"First Frost opens with the first Lucksmiths song written by Louis Richter, who played guitar on the last album and has been playing with the band on tour for years now. Titled “The Town and the Hills”, it’s sung by drummer Tali White, the band’s lead vocalist no matter the songwriter (mostly Marty Donald, sometimes Mark Monnone, occasionally White). Richter wrote two of the album’s 14 songs. It’s a sign that The Lucksmiths are now officially a four-person band, though already the last album Warmer Corners benefited from his presence on guitar.
With each album their already pretty much perfect songwriting gets better, and over the last three albums, counting this new one, the music has jumped forward as well, with arrangements that are more sophisticated, in a good way. And at the same time the band keeps getting punchier. First Frost overall has a sense of wistfulness to it, but plenty of the songs have moments where the band pushes forward forcefully. The last time I saw them play live I was struck by how much faster they were playing, how much they rocked, even. On album they’ve translated that into compact bursts of energy without losing the subtler touch their thoughtful songs require. It’s a confidently written and played album, plentiful with winning melodies but also instrumental parts that do well to communicate the mood of the song and album. One such surprising but natural moment comes near the album’s end on the slow-and-steady “How We Met”, where the band builds up into a noisy shimmer, emulating the radio static mentioned in a lyric. The album is filled with other less dramatic, but no less enjoyable, musical moments.
”The Town and the Hills” sets up the mood of the LP well, by setting a very specific scene (“The clouds are hanging low / about the shoulders of the hills / where the shadow kills the light”) and then introducing characters, who bring along their own anxieties and dreams. First Frost is filled with daily-life stories, serious or light, smartly written into song. These observational stories carry little truths about human relationships and experiences, but are never heavy-handed about it, rarely even trying to pin down any truths as such.
”A Sobering Thought (Just When One Was Needed)” vividly describes a drunken night out on the town with an old friend. The spunky “South-East Coastal Rendezvous” (one of a couple songs here that I’ve taken to declaring as the pop hit of the season when it comes on) also has some people meeting up after a period apart, drinking a toast to the unknown (“here’s to who knows what”). The narrator of “How We Met” inadvertently eavesdrops on his lover at a party telling the story of how they met. The especially bittersweet “California in Popular Song” has someone moving to the western US, the song’s narrator explaining to her that moving doesn’t always make things right, and that songs aren’t always true: “All those songs about California lied / the stars won’t shine tonight / it isn’t going to be alright.”
The album’s characters seem to teeter-totter between worry and hopefulness, cynicism and optimism. Even a lost mitten comes to represent both, as a group-singalong breaks into the chorus “fingers crossed / all is not lost.” Entwined with that worry/hope balance are people and places – lovers separating, to uncertain end; cities quiet and still. The album’s final song, “Who Turned on the Lights?”, offers one last invigorating moment of uncertainty, in a song about both people and a city. It starts on a train, in the aftermath of a lovers’ spat. They reach a city that’s surprisingly bright, asking each other the title question in a tuneful chorus, strengthened by electric guitar and backing harmonies. It ends the album on an up note musically, and perhaps one for the album’s characters too: “I know we’re trembling now / but the lightning and rain are gonna pass…"
(Dave Heaton, Erasing Clouds)
"The Luckless Smiths, as some have tagged these Morrissey-influenced Aussies, have quietly gone about their business for 15 years, recording generally overlooked yet increasingly radiant albums that have made them one of their country’s most prolific and consistent group of songwriters.
First Frost, their 11th studio album, picks up the baton passed by 2005’s career-crowning Warmer Corners and it maintains the band’s upward curve – this is grown-up Lucksmiths but one that still sparkles with the youthful zest that made them so appealing in the first place.
It’s just now they take themselves more seriously – gone are the witty, throwaway puns and two-minute songs that occasionally seemed out of place on their Nineties albums and possibly undermined the notion that here was a band to be reckoned with.
This may not read like a positive but, like Warmer Corners before it, First Frost is music to sigh to.
Not in a despressing, melancholy sense – it’s more of a nostalgic, comfortable and settled sigh made evident on album opener The Town And The Hills which blends brass, strings and airy vocals.
The album’s finest moments – the achingly lovely Good Light, the twee-est song title ever on the delicate The National Mitten Registry, the railway rhythm of Day Three Of Five and the Wedding Present-esque vibe of Up With The Sun – are among the best songs the Melbourne-based quartet have ever recorded.
Elsewhere there are nods to country in the duet Lament Of The Chiming Wedgebill and something of a guitar surge on A Sobering Thought and Never And Always and, though songwriting credits are shared by all four members of the band, there is never a lack of cohesion.
First Frost is the sound of four men growing older together, leaving behind the urban dreams of youth for gentler pursuits – but they’re not doing so gracefully.
“I don’t mean to suggest I’m getting older,” sings Tali White on Pines, “But the city looks its best over my shoulder…”
That should strike a chord with all who’ve followed The Lucksmiths’ journey down the years. We are, after all, in the first frost of our lives too..."
(Ed Miller, Music Week)
"Indie isn’t really a musical genre even though it’s frequently labeled as one. But it does make for a description, one I grudgingly admit to using more than is likely necessary. But sometimes it just fits. And few bands on the planet have earned that portrayal more than Melbourne’s the Lucksmiths.
Strictly speaking, indie describes everything not released on a major label—yes, even Sun Records was technically an indie label, making artists like Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley among the earliest of indie rockers. But indie is generally used as a way to describe a general aesthetic, one that supports the DIY-ethic, an alternative approach to songwriting/recording, a general preference for intimacy and an allergic reaction to polish. There are, naturally, exceptions to these rules, and numerous indie groups sound like majors and vice versa, but the best way to figure it out is pretty simple: if you heard it on the radio during prime driving hours, it’s a pretty safe bet that Universal, Sony, Warner or EMI wanted you to hear it.
Whether the Lucksmiths would welcome the media attention or not (I suspect the latter), there’s absolutely no reason why one or more of the four majors shouldn’t target this group. They’ve been around long enough (First Frost is their ninth full-length studio album, and they have several EPs in addition) so they have a built-in fanbase. They’re fairly traditional in their approach to songwriting—neither dangerous nor dull. And they have an uncanny ability to write perfectly pleasant pop songs. If the Lucksmiths have a niche, it was carved only out of the necessity of mild anonymity. I doubt there is a person alive that can’t embrace at least half of these songs. Even if the tunes fail to inspire a passionate response in certain closed-off individuals, derision could only be summoned by the sourest of fools.
Specializing in the gentle guitar-driven pop rock made famous by the likes of the Go-Betweens, Belle & Sebastian, Belly and the Wedding Present, they know their way around a pop song, and find imaginative ways to force even the most subdued of hooks deep into the brain. Witness “California in Popular Song,” with its whimsical, twinkling guitar line, sun-drenched pastoral folk decadence and hushed vocalizing both sighing and direct. Or try out the funereal “The National Mitten Registry.” Slow, spare and somber (if a bit too lyrically precious—love for mittens?), it gradually collects steam without ever upping the tempo. Simple and effective, they know how to crackle a fire over the iciest of landscapes, drawing in each of their breaths with those from our own lungs. They even dabble in old-style country western duets on “Lament of the Chiming Wedgebill,” built around a twangy guitar trot and accented with acute harmonica flourishes. And when the music gets really quiet just before the placid shoegaze climax of “How We Met,” you realize that this is how Chris Carrabba should have been doing it all along.
But don’t think that this is an entirely sedate and subtle affair. Try out the buoyantly melodic but pristinely potent “A Sobering Thought,” arguably the album’s catchiest track. Or if you prefer velocity, listen to the locomotive guitar of “Never & Always.” That chugging crunch comes courtesy of recently-added guitarist, Louis Richter, who acquits himself nicely as writer and performer both, penning that song as well as the more warmly unfolding charms of leadoff, “The Town and the Hills.” I imagine his rougher edge helped increase the impact of the bouncy, Silver-Jews-on-Ritalin winner, “South East Coastal Rendezvous.” The Lucksmiths were once dominated by acoustic guitars, but the way they blend them with electric now is quite impressive.
If the album opens strongly, it may very well close even better. “Song of the Undersea” and “Up with the Sun” nearly match guitarist Marty Donald’s earlier one-two punch of “Sobering” and “California”; jangly pop nuggets with effervescent harmonies layered over plucky percussion. “Pines” is a gorgeously melancholic mid-tempo ballad, one of the band’s finest slow tracks in their long history—the strings that take over in the second half accentuate the internal turmoil. The phrases that singer/drummer Tali White sing over this cut are suitably sensitive: “I went through all my winter clothes/And quiet was the only thing I kept,” and, “I don't mean to suggest I'm getting older/But the city looks better over my shoulder.” As for the final song (“Who Turned on the Lights?”), it’s not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but the use of an organ and (I think) cowbell in an entirely logical way suggests that they’re even more sonically inventive than originally suspected.
One of the keys to the Lucksmiths’ success comes in the way they can be effortlessly loose in their arrangements while remaining songwriters as tight as the most frenzied rock acts around. It’s easygoing music, to be sure, but entirely uncluttered and lacking in pretension. The addition of strings and horns to several songs never feels superfluous or forced purely for a twee/chamber pop effect. And as a vocalist, White has the straightforward, mild-mannered dignity and understated effect that Badly Drawn Boy promised us years ago. Luckily, this group has more staying power. After more than fifteen years of recording, here’s looking forward to fifteen more. Maybe one day they’ll be as popular as they ought to, but I’m not holding my breath."
(Matt Medlock, Just Press Play)
"Melbourne’s The Lucksmiths are the foremost of a number of Australian bands (see also: Darren Hanlon, The Cat’s Miaow, the Mabels) keeping alive the flame lit by the Go-Betweens of the style Robert Forster and Grant McLennan labelled “that striped sunlight sound” - wistful melodies, lyrically strong with a tinge of doomed romanticism. So much an institution of the scene that they’ve put out two rarities collections, one a double set, their ninth studio album sees no reason to change its core ways of understated, deeply likeable old school indie, more polished than the shamblers, no concessions given to allow Zane Lowe airplay. That longtime home of the perfect pop non-hits Fortuna POP! are putting the album out in Britain is no surprise.
That said, while First Frost gives moving on from bedroom romanticism a go it can’t quite match up to their last studio effort, 2005’s Warmer Corners, an inevitably widely ignored collection that just about perfected their craft. Trying to improve on such Aus-pop perfection inevitably ends in slight letdown, as almost too perfect in stylistic conception songs like ‘Good Light’, with its lightweight, jangly mostly acoustic summery strumming, yearning lyrical themes and subtle horns, are. Of the band’s four songwriters it’s guitarist Marty Donald who again comes up trumps, with that song and album highspot ‘A Sobering Thought (Just When One Was Needed)’, detailing drunken swimming pool escapades to a glam beat and choral call-and-response chorus, plus the country-flecked acoustics and distant strings of ‘California In Popular Song’, where the unshowy, quiet nobility of vocalist/drummer Tali white is at its most effective.
What’s always most impressive with the Lucksmiths is the area where a few of their contemporaries have fallen short, not only in having multiple songwriters turning out an album that is largely of a piece but in ensuring such melodically crafted, often Smiths recalling (this the band who have released a song entitled ‘There Is a Boy That Never Goes Out’) introspection doesn’t lapse into autopilot and make them an easily dismissable one trick pony. They’re not afraid to extend out of their previously drawn comfort zone, so the guitars do get edgier than they’ve previously displayed and at points positively reverb-happy, while the colliery brass lament of ‘The National Mitten Registry’ facilitates the almost unthinkable act of making lachrymosity out of an extended metaphor based on lost gloves (unless it is actually about lost gloves, of course, in which case it’s potentially the twee-est thing you’ve ever heard) Unfortunately it’s let down by a pronounced dip from just after midway where, bar the subtle string-backed repudiation of the city of ‘Pines’ and ‘Up with The Sun’ being taken over halfway through by uncharacteristic fuzzy guitar, things level out and veer too close to the territory of the Magic Numbers and the Walkabouts, and right at the end a few uncalled for classic rock shapes, as if such apparently effortless songsmithery had actually become too easy for them.
The Lucksmiths may not exhibit the flamboyancy and wide ranging scope of immediate touchstones the Go-Betweens and Belle & Sebastian, and previous two albums Naturaliste and the aforementioned Warmer Corners would be better places to start, but First Frost retains that lightness of touch towards their subjects and abilities that marks them well out from the crowd, by turns heartbreaking and optimistic. More of the same, but until it hits the wall that’s not always such a bad thing."
(Simon Tyers, The Line of Best Fit)
"I can think of no other band that writes melodic pop songs as articulate about everyday life scenarios—cities, the weather, wasting time, interactions between friends and lovers—as the Lucksmiths, and they keep getting better at it as the years pass. What’s more, their music is getting more attractive to the ears. Each of their last three albums has represented a strengthening and filling-out of their sound. First Frost is touched by driving rock, stately folk, tender soul, and a blast of noise, even. And all the while this sounds like the Lucksmiths we know and love. Within these songs people travel, get drunk, grow together and grow apart. None of the stories are unnecessarily over-dramatic, but rather thoughtful, detailed, and recognizable. That real-life familiarity may be why their albums are so easy to listen to over and over again, to live with."
(Dave Heaton, Pop Matters — First Frost voted #1 "Best Indie Pop of 2008")
"This being their ninth studio album, Melbourne’s understated, underrated Lucksmiths must be the most misnamed band on Earth. As wistful, melodic indie-pop goes, mind, they hit the jackpot on every song. Frost is a gem of autumnal guitar-pop, hinged on regret and weathered sorrow. Granted, soft-hearted tracks about, say, the travails of a lost glove might be too fey for some. But with songwriting this strong, meekness is no weakness." ****
(The Independent, London UK)
"Less luck than smith, but less trade than art, First Frost marks another strong entry into an under-heralded band’s catalog. The Lucksmiths create indie-pop that’s at once comfortable and unpredictable, relaxed in song structure and sound, but driven by captivating lyrics. This newest album works well in providing not stories, but snippets, often moments of conversation with a few gaps left to fill in. Without wasting a track, the band develops a cohesive album through recurrent themes and images, as well as a developing mood complete with closing fulfilment.
As light as the album sounds sonically (yes, it’s jangle from Australia), the lyrics focus on rain. Even so, the songs never turn past gray (even when, as in “South-East Coastal Rendezvous”, “the wet starts to win"), bringing us into an area of forecasted rain and mild anxiety, rather than actual drizzle. The nervousness stems not from senseless fear, but from an awareness of past events ("the weight of shadow cast / By pieces of the past") and human tendencies that cause centers not to hold, as captured in emotional affairs, a tendency toward drink, etc.
“A Sobering Thought (Just When One Was Needed)” provides an example of what goes wrong, and how beautiful that moment can be. With “puddles on the floor” juxtaposed with the day’s burgeoning sunlight, the narrator launches into his confession to his lover. He meets up with an old friend, and an ostensibly platonic catching-up turns into a late night dip at the swimming pool. The wetness here, evidentiary in its puddling, is not due to the always coming rain, but from the individual choice in the present. The Lucksmiths make it lovely and nearly defensible. The title provides the painful denouement: the end comes not from any realization of wrongdoing, but from the sobering thought of potential discovery. Our man drips home.
While he does return, the usual causes of things falling apart merge with the narrators’ desires to flee. Both growing interpersonal distance and increasing anxiety (sometimes ill-founded) manifest themselves in an urge toward flight. “Never and Always” provides some bad advice: “It never rains on the highway”. The Wilco-alluding “California in Popular Song” puts the division between land and sea: “If those dark clouds reach to the empty beach / Well at least the coast is clear”. The singers of “First Frost”, whether hurt or merely anticipating hurt, seek refuge in physical distance rather than emotional repair. If they weren’t drawn so remarkably close to real, they could tend toward the pathetic. Instead, they quickly develop as full characters (see the oscillation and conflict of “Never and Always"). It’s not cowardice so much as a physical expression (geographically, or even topographically) of a persistent condition.
The Lucksmiths don’t leave their listeners in this state of people always going and events always pending. If they had, they’d have created a neurotic, lovely enough work, but one too enmeshed in its own shortcomings to be both as heartwarming and heartbreaking as it is. The opening track “The Town and Hills” provides the question that each character (and each listener) should face: “When was the last time you sang / Along with the bells as they rang?” The question stays away from matters of context. The feeling here—whether happiness, freedom, or escape—comes not from external situations (like rain), but from internal decisions (like jumping into a pool, only antithetically).
Hope hides throughout the album, usually peeking out in phrases like “I hope someday you’ll see me / Even briefly / In a good light”. In one of the more pleasing tracks, “The National Mitten Registry”, we find encouragement and strength from a personified mitten. The whole track’s a playful poem in which, without the title, you might believe the narrator to even be a person ("threadbare and falling apart” or “Forgotten, forlorn / Unclaimed and uncared for"). Then, in a cheerful play on words, the mitten sets an example by calmly and simply stating, “Fingers crossed / All is not lost”. If a mitten can cross its fingers, then we should take comfort.
The tide (for we’re thoroughly wet now, whether the rain’s hit us or not) turns fully on “Up with the Sun”. If the album has largely been about people about to go in motion but not quite gone and rain always arriving but never arrived, we suddenly get sticky and stuck on the album’s finest couplet: “New sun behind me, like syrup on my skin / Honey, remind me where it is we’ve been” (the wordplay is thoroughly delicious). The narrator takes stock, recognizing his own “shame and ... shackles” and breaking from his mental entrapment. In doing so, the dark clouds falter, and he sings, “Oh, but then one morning as the clubs were closing / Dawn stuck her nose in / And over I was won”.
“Who Turned on the Lights?” closes the album with unsentimental opportunity, offering apology and care. The weather suppresses light, but “there’s power in the city tonight”. Our narrator cautions not against the rain, but against the fear of it, embracing the trembling and explaining that “the lightning and rain are gonna pass / And leave these streets looking so pretty in a while / After all, the wet look is back in style”. Not only the people, but also the wetness is redeemed, changing the convicting puddle into something more. Here, the narrator exchanges the weather in its native unpredictability for “Bernini’s fountain”, a constructed work and a choosing of beauty. The moment says farewell to umbrella arms in favor of the light of a Roman holiday."
(Justin Cober-Lake, Pop Matters)