Like a lot of people, Pierce Frolic turned to music as an escape from the heavier aspects of life. It was something he truly needed, since he struggled through school and, in his own words, “crashed out of college”, survived an automobile accident, ended up hospitalised through other misadventures and found himself surrounded by death. With friends having committed suicide or having their lives cut short through accidents, a dark world got even darker. With all of that in mind, it’s no wonder his debut release ‘Zinnia’ is obsessed with mortality.

Essentially a song cycle exploring the five stages of death, the first chapter, ‘Wavelength’, has a pleasingly organic core where acoustic guitars and soft, echoing electrics sound as if an old R.E.M. song has been used as a springboard. The space between the notes almost says as much as the music itself – at least to begin with – but as the piece gains momentum and heavy beats augment a lyric about acceptance of passing, it soon becomes another sold pop-rock affair where the sentiment is everything. In this final chapter, the protagonist revisits the feelings of a funeral, shares that its okay to grieve even if he doesn’t “shed more tears than he has to”. It’s quite frank about human fragility, especially when openly stating that “[my] mental health don’t agree with me” and in sharing the never ending wish that time could somehow be turned back, but there’s also a strange beauty in the pop-ish arrangement and the way the performer uses his natural guitar lines to combat the oncoming beats throughout. It’s textbook emo in lots of ways, but that’ll be more than enough reason for fans of the style to lend a curious ear. Almost as immediate, ‘Tom’s Song’, latches onto melodies that many alt-pop acts would take for granted, mixed with a little more bounce via a rumpty tumpty rhythm. Lyrically, there’s an obvious theme of depression and potentially suicidal thoughts, with the protagonist often questioning whether Tom is “in a happy place”. Eventually, Tom is discussed in a past tense and the protagonist tells us that “growing up alone is way too tough”. It’s all seriously dark stuff, not to be approached if you’re feeling in any way fragile, so it’s a good job that Pierce has countered the dark narrative with a sugary pop melody that sounds like a homespun, very DIY take on something Orson or Simple Plan might serve on a particularly upbeat number. As with most of this release’s songs, the vocal has been drenched in so much autotune, Pierce almost sounds like a robot. It’s obviously a stylistic choice, but not a good one, since it actually has the effect of making everything seem weirdly detached and other worldly when it should feel more reflective and personal. Maybe that’s the point; left naked, some of the messages here would be so personal, they’d be deeply upsetting. If you can make it past the effects, there’s something here that’ll give you pause for thought, especially in the way the music and lyrics seem to oppose each other.

In terms of guitar playing, ‘Love Blooms’ is a definite highlight, with the performer placing a smooth pop vocal above finger picked, almost folky, acoustic guitar lines. His playing is incredibly natural and the way he weaves musical melodies from the late 60s into a vocal that has more in common with late 90s emo shows how his natural ear for melody helps form another great song. Quite why he then decided to smother that with heavy r ‘n’ b beats and another flood of autotune abuse is anyone’s guess. The heavy electronic vibes really don’t suit the job in hand. As before, it can struggle to see past that, but maybe without that distraction, the intensely personal lyric about a breaking relationship – death of a different kind – would be too honest and too hard to take. As he sings of watching love bloom and die as a constant cycle within a significant other’s eyes, the lyric is so poignant and relatable, that had it been offered in a stripped back manner, it would have floored everyone… In a change of mood, the beats actually give ‘Florence Avenue’ a real drive and as Pierce works through four minutes of alt-pop with something of a Yellowcard-ish feel, the EP – and some of its jarring stylistic choices – actually start to make more sense as a whole. The acoustic guitar still provides a heart and the voice – far less autotuned – taps into some near perfect, retro emo sounds as the song deals with the emotional baggage of the dying embers of another relationship. More buoyant than before, parts of this tune seem to call back to blink-182 circa 2003 and there’s plenty within the emo-centric pop rock that’s very strong indeed. In closing, Pierce drops the listener in on life’s twilight years and ‘Growin’ Old’ first presents the singer songwriter as someone who’s soaked up various sounds from Billie Joe Armstrong. Against solid acoustic strums that sound like the core of a latter day Green Day ballad and sparsely used mechanised beats, he sings of “not being afraid of letting go” of love and of moving on. Melodically, it has a heart in the early noughties and its all round simplicity helps give the reflective lyric a huge heart. …Or at least it would, had the performer not chosen to disguise his feelings and message in so much autotune he sounds like a robot.  Nevertheless, Pierce Frolic’s knack for dropping a candid lyric is more than sown here, and somewhere beneath the effects lies a crying melody that might just appeal to those who love blink-182’s pop output.

It’s easy to imagine a lot of listeners coming away from ‘Zinnia’ with very mixed feelings. There are some brilliantly written, very personal pop songs here: the lyrics are intense and meaningful, whilst the melodies – often with a strong root within classic emo and light pop punk sounds – are often familiar. However, the execution can be a different matter, and via the horrid autotune, Pierce Frolic appears to want to alienate people almost in a self-preserving way. If only everything hadn’t been half drowned in effects, the emotional punch of these personal songs could’ve been so much more effective. This is release to approach with caution and it’s best not to expect immediate results, but those willing to put in the extra time to lose themselves within the narratives could well find something of great interest in time.

June 2021