The Gridlock finds Cecil Frena reckoning with the past. It's an alchemy of sounds that the wandering auteur has explored before under different names: abrasive hardcore, the frenetic kaleido-pop of Gobble Gobble, and Born Gold's electronic sentimentality. Now recording under his own name, Frena's merged them all into a kinetic, shapeshifting album of deftly experimental pop songs.
"All of My Heroes" plays like an anthem for an era trying to excise its demons, massive and confrontational with hooks to match. "Unknow Yourself" and "My Good Grades" both charge along with propulsive kick, the former through guitar shreds and shouts, the latter boosted by electronic chugs. But The Gridlock nestles moments of vulnerability in among its more abrasive moments: "Die Old" is a relatively straightforward pop song that buoys an urgent sense of hope, while "Hyphen" lets a Theremin's otherworldly waver expand its heart-strung sentiments. Elsewhere, "I Believe in Dancing" centres around an acoustic guitar before releasing a swarm of warm electronic textures at its chorus.
If that sounds like an odd mix of elements, it is, but they're delivered exceptionally well here. On The Gridlock, Frena seems to have pulled pop songs from an alternate universe: they're strange but familiar, capable of refracting habitual sounds into affecting, unexpected shapes. (Hovercraft)