On their ninth album, Nineties, Austin band Frank Smith delivers some of the tightest, most powerful songs of their long career. Previously firmly rooted in Americana and folk-rock, the band leans in that direction now and then throughout Nineties, but most of the tracks present a different imagining of this stalwart Austin band—a forceful indie-rock outfit. Despite their name, the band is neither fronted by a guy named Frank Smith, nor contains a member by this name. At the fore of this quintet is Aaron Sinclair, whose distinctive growl helps define the band’s sound.
Opening with the anomaly of the stripped down “We Will All Win,” the album quickly moves into a succession of upbeat rock tracks. Single “Beaten Sacks of Death” features punchy, reverbed guitar that explodes in distorted bursts. “It’s So Easy” packs a punch, but does lean in the direction of the band’s previous folk-rock, letting fans know the band is still true to its roots. The album’s second single, “How Many Ways,” boasts one of the most infectious synth lines we’ve heard in a while and hides a surprise in a haunting, faraway outro. Pedal steel notes creep along beneath the propulsive drums of “It’ll Be Over Soon” before distorted guitar chords ring out as Sinclair belts it out. If you haven’t learned by this point in the album, it’s clear here; Frank Smith is a band with a ton of heart.
From here, the tracks shoot out in various directions. “One Day” is an upbeat folk pop song while “Dinosaur,” full of discordant, crunchy sounds, stretches out as the album’s longest track. “Let’s Make Friends” is full-on indie-rock, channeling early Strokes with blistering guitar and ferocious vocals. The track is intriguing and enjoyable, but placed next to the careful indie pop and beautiful keys of “Tuesday,” the latter is far more successful. I’m surprised this solid track comes so late in the album. “Tuesday” flows seamlessly into closer “Chewing Glass,” which follows a similar approach. Even though acoustic guitars and keys define the verses of the closer, the song doesn’t feel too folky—musical interludes of big, distorted guitars offer contrast.
Nineties is a solid album through and through, with its greatest songs up front and at the end. Each track is worthwhile, though the few middle experiments feel a little less in keeping with the record overall. If Frank Smith wanted to prove themselves capable of more powerful, grittier indie rock, they certainly have. However, the band also sounds wonderful when they take some of the edge off on the album’s closing pair of songs. Having released eight previous albums, it says something that Nineties may well be the band’s best record yet.
Hear “How Many Ways” below. Catch the band’s release show on April 13th.