Kathryn Calder and Mark Andrew Hamilton say they met in the hallway of a recording studio and knew within five minutes that they wanted to form a band. Frontperson is the result. Calder is a singer probably best known for her work in the New Pornographers, and Hamilton is the mastermind behind the Canadian indie-folk act Woodpigeon. While Frontperson contains occasional echoes of their other work, Frontrunner sounds new and original in a way that still manages to feel familiar.
Calder and Hamilton merge their musical strengths—her pop instincts and his eclectic ear—on songs full of dreamlike atmospherics and subtle hooks. Their voices, and the way they accompany one another, are a big part of the draw here: Calder sings harmonies that shift and morph with every verse on “He Follows Me,” and she creates an almost haunted effect on the tense, accusatory opener “U.O.I.” by chiming in on some phrases but not others. Hamilton’s voice buoys hers on the autumnal “Shorter Days,” and he augments her wordless vocals on “Long Night” with elegant counterpoints before joining his voice to hers in prismatic multi-tracked parts that make them sound like a full choir.
They give each other plenty of space elsewhere: “Tick-Tock (Frontrunner)” is an off-kilter call-and-response, and they sing different melodies while remaining completely in sync with the low-key grove and keening synthesizers. Calder helps sing a descending vocal part over squalling guitars on “This City Is Mine,” and Hamilton adds subdued harmony on “Young Love,” as if he’s an observer who doesn’t want to interrupt but can’t help singing along.
Although there’s nothing among these nine songs that’s exceptionally daring, there are moments of real beauty: “He Follows Me” builds from restrained electric guitar and plaintive vocals to a bold, clapping beat and horn-like synthesizers as Hamilton, in remarkably frank lyrics, unearths the heartache in anonymous hookups. On “Shorter Days,” Calder and Hamilton sing quietly, evoking the feel of twilight in early winter, and then send their voices soaring on the refrain as the song takes a stormy turn.
Each musician brought songs to Frontperson they hadn’t quite been able to make work in other contexts, which sometimes gives the impression on Frontrunner that they’re finishing each other’s sentences—and making them stronger while they’re at it. From a chance encounter in the hall to a promising debut, let’s count ourselves lucky that Calder and Hamilton have found so much to talk about.