Hyperpop has entered an awkward stage. As the once-meteoric genre has trailed off into a number of micro-scenes that can’t agree on whether they’re dead or not, questions that plagued the music since its genesis have finally come home to roost. How do artists maintain an edge once the majors get involved? Where does the line between shock value and substance lie? And at what point is it brave to continually resuscitate abandoned genres—be it blog house, dubstep, nu-metal, or whatever Blood on the Dance Floor was—until the reflexive nostalgia itself becomes tired and predictable?
Frost Children aren’t here to answer any of those questions. The New York duo, consisting of siblings Angel and Lulu Prost, has taken the throw-everything-at-the-wall approach to its logical extreme and demonstrated its limits in the process. Like their forbears Dorian Electra and 100 gecs, Frost Children are vocal advocates of living on the cheesier side of life. They’ve spoken about “the zen of cringe,” and their handful of self-released albums over the last few years have felt like an exercise in seeing how cartoonishly stupid a project can get while still clinging onto its veneer of cool. As producers, the Prosts are undeniably clever, and their lack of self-restraint has resulted in flashes of inspiration. But for every sugar-coated, so-bad-it’s-good happy hardcore remix, there’s a brutally unfunny Spongebob-rap themed side project to match, and their best ideas can’t keep up with their grating, worst ones. So it goes with their True Panther debut SPEED RUN, whose over-the-top emo-club theatrics are crammed full of ideas but still come off creatively vacant.
To classify Frost Children under the hyperpop banner doesn’t fully capture the roots of the Prosts’ music, which is just as much a product of New York’s fledgling indie-sleaze revival. As with their frequent bill-mate the Dare, Frost Children’s influences date a couple years past Y2K and into the trashy mid-’00s (think Cobra Starship and LMFAO). It’s a savvy, if somewhat unsurprising move to mine this era of party music, particularly as the larger club circuit’s ongoing ’90s obsession seems to be finally wearing out its welcome. Unfortunately the duo doesn’t make a good case for bringing any of these sounds back, stirring one flimsy mashup after another into a McFlurry of cliches.
The problems start with the Prosts’ migraine-inducing vocals. Their nasally enunciation begs for the bombast of Panic! at the Disco, yet Frost Children rarely land on hooks juicy enough to even qualify as guilty pleasure material. “COUP” tees off the album with the Prosts singing, “Like, oh my god, what the fuck, who are you?” in their cattiest voices, their posturing playing like a flimsy attempt at camp. SPEED RUN’s saving grace in these moments lies in the duo’s production, which favors a dry, buzzy bass tone reminiscent of Ed Banger’s raucous glory days. This raw treatment lends tracks like “FLATLINE” a punchy danceability; the song’s dial-tone feedback and tick-tocking cowbells add a deliriously playful, PC Music-ish touch that significantly jacks up the energy. But this momentum leads into a brick wall during the bridge, as the Prosts unleash their worst 3OH!3 impression: “Cut the shit/Are you fucking with me?” they shout snottily in unison, the soundtrack to a party where everybody is pretending to have fun.
This tension between inventive electronic styling and gimmicky genre-mixing is SPEED RUN’s driving force; the Prosts seem unable to fully embrace cringy vulnerability while maintaining their sleek, clubby exterior. It induces a special kind of nausea to hear the duo punctuate the house stomp of “SICK TRIP” by breathily whispering “awesome sauce, for the win,” then turning around and bragging about how their guestlist is full. Do Frost Children want us to see them as nerdy shut-ins or as untouchable club kids? SPEED RUN repeatedly attempts to thread these two needles at once, but the results rarely become more than shallow, winking shout-outs. Look, there’s Death From Above 1979 on the electro-clashy “OBSESSED”; there’s Muse on the Super Smash Bros.-interpolating “SERPENT”; there’s Hellogoodbye, by way of lo-fi hip-hop radio, on “WONDERLAND.” Normally the issue with biting influences too hard is that it makes you wonder why you wouldn’t just listen to the original instead. In Frost Children’s case, it asks whether any of this is worth reclaiming at all.
The Prosts are becoming more polished as dancefloor producers, and they’d be wise to lean further into those talents. Even their worst tracks are littered with sweet little sonic details, like the blown-out synth line that kicks in halfway through “HI 5,” or the rubbery arpeggio that bounces about the Eurodancey “ALL I GOT.” A more developed, less annoying set of tracks might’ve made the path forward for hyperpop seem less uncertain, but ultimately SPEED RUN’s flat songwriting and clumsy aesthetic gestures just seem like a dead end.