The Phantom Tollbooth

Artist: Frolic
Label: Velvet Empire
Time: 13 tracks/66:57 minutes

Over the last couple of years, the Velvet Empire label has made a name for itself by specializing in darkwave and ambient music geared toward the Christian market. So, naturally, Permafrost, the latest effort from Frolic, is in keeping with the ambient tradition of soothing electronic tones,
right? Well, yes and no.

Frolic has put a number of ambient songs on Permafrost, but they've also recorded a few more hybridized tunes. "Drift Away" sounds like a mix between trip-hop and ambient, while "Essence of Violet" has some freaky reverb guitars thrown in. Unfortunately, Frolic makes their influences a bit too obvious; "Essence..." only reminds listeners how much better Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine were at the ambient guitar-drenched sound, while "Tonite" sounds as though it belongs on an upcoming Aphex Twin album.

Don't get me wrong, there's some solid material here, but the filler detracts from the album as a whole. "Reunion" and "Sea," in particular, are apparently intended to be atonal, but the off key nature of these two songs becomes irritating, not innovative.

For a better introduction to the world of darkwave, I recommend the excellent Awaiting the Dawn compilation, available from Flaming Fish or Velvet Empire.

Glenn Harper (6/13/99)