Neil Frances’ ‘There is No Neil Frances’ values pleasure over precision

Cover of Neil Frances new album "There Is No Neil Frances"
Nettwerk Music Group/Courtesy

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

On Jan. 28, rising indie pop group Neil Frances anti-introduced themselves to the world with the title of their debut album — There is No Neil Frances

Indeed, Neil Frances is not a single man, but a misleading band name for Jordan Feller and Marc Gilfry’s musical collaboration. Their recent semi-eponymous album lives up to the vagueness of its title; the record is a cohesive, 40-minute ride through versatile synth pop tracks that could sound passable in any commercial, but will get listeners moving nonetheless. Although the tone of the album is genuine and romantic, occasional tongue-in-cheek lyrics remind listeners that the men behind Neil Frances don’t take dance music more seriously than it needs to be, making There is No Neil Frances a win for pop music in 2022.

Having already built a fanbase from their 2018 EP Took a While and singles such as “Music Sounds Better with You,” Neil Frances considered developing their artistry without making an album at all, according to Gilfry in an interview with The Daily Californian. 

There is No Neil Frances is, at first listen, a clear product of this hesitation; the album is breezily freeform from top to bottom as if it were merely a happy accident created in the studio that turned out long enough to earn LP status. Producer Jordan Feller plays with different levels of danceability throughout the record, incorporating all of Neil Frances’ sonic influences from 1970s disco to modern house in what sounds like natural stream-of-conscious lyricism from two musical minds.

Sampling is masterfully done across the album – “in the starlight,” features a chopped version of the bubbly Patrice Rushen classic, “Remind Me,” and “every day with you” samples “Open Your Eyes,” a 1980 Bobby Caldwell hit. The former solely features Patrice Rushen’s original vocals, serving as a focused interlude of sonic appreciation for the R&B icon. The latter track, however, combines vocals from Caldwell, Gilfry and background singers — a completely new take on the sampled melody, fusing modern, breathy vocals with an old-school flair.

Although Neil Frances’ references span a few decades, There is No Neil Frances is a product of 2022 in both sound and content. In “thump thumping from a distance (Karen’s interlude)”, a woman rants over the phone about college partiers, threatening to call the police. As the “Karen” increasingly loses her temper, a spacey, electronic melody fades in and out in peaceful contrast, amusedly reminding and consoling listeners about the inevitability of conflict in their lives. 

Gilfry, the vocalist of the group, complements the whimsicality of the album’s lyrics with his pleading, whispery falsetto. The pop singer noted that it’s obvious when someone is singing something they feel versus something that rhymes. In a few tracks from There is no Neil Frances, Neil Frances seems to do both. 

“It’s like a dream” is the funk highlight of the album in which Gilfry sings repeatedly, “There’s nowhere I’d rather be/ After three,” atop dizzying disco instrumentals. Later in the album, during the sultry, more acoustic “I can feel the pressure,” he muses, “I can walk down the street/ Tell you I’m your piece of meat,” a line that manages to land some genuine angst with its blatant rhyming. 

While Neil Frances might seem carefree with their lyricism, the concept behind There is No Neil Frances is strategic from top to bottom. The titles of each track read downward like a poem, each phrase punctuated for flow. The album begins by personifying and encouraging a “Little heartbeat,” to thump, then finishes with a cryptic summary; “we’re falling up/ like electric blue angels.” Neil Frances implicates the listener in their poem in order to remind listeners why the group creates dance music in the first place; “I just want you to/ be free.” 

All in all, the open-ended and occasionally incoherent lyricism of There is No Neil Frances prioritizes music over identity, encouraging listeners to find their rhythm within the album and just dance.

Contact Nurcan Sumbul at [email protected].