Music that investigates sounds and ideas rooted in specific cultural settings is, at times, overlooked in a media landscape that places a premium on the new and innovative. The Frightnrs, a local band from Queens, NY, released “Nothing More to Say” six years ago this September. At the time of the album’s release, it received wide acclaim, shaped mainly by the tragic and premature death of the group’s moving force and lead singer, Dan Klein. Ever since, the group has been living in the shadow of tragedy, punctuating and transcending their music to a reflection on mortality. The Frightnrs have released albums of remixes (“More To Say Versions” in 2017 and “Always” in 2022) after Klein’s untimely passing, but “Nothing More To Say” is an album that deserves to be revisited and considered a modern classic. The fresh approach of “Nothing More to Say” is both respectful of its origins and technically inventive, conjuring the past while incorporating the present.
To appreciate The Frightnrs’ musical background, one needs to examine the band’s Jamaican music-inspired sound. The Frightnrs drew from and celebrated the sounds of rocksteady, a musical genre borne at the crossroads of sonic germination and inspiration on the island nation. Fast-paced ska was the zeitgeist in early ’60s Jamaica, but artists looked for a slower, gorgeous style suited for dancing. Inspired by American soul and doo-wop, Jamaican artists such as Alton Ellis, Slim Smith and Phyllis Dillon combined crooning vocals with a down-tempo variant of ska to produce the novel genre. Rocksteady’s domination over the Jamaican music airwaves lasted only a few years in the ’60s before morphing into more bass-and-keyboard-heavy reggae. The sound of rocksteady and the sense of easiness and nostalgia it evokes inspired American singers such as Johnny Nash with “Hold Me Tight” in 1968, and Blondie with their cover of The Paragons’ “The Tide is High” in 1980. Because the architecture of rocksteady suited itself to slow dancing, it also recreated a diaspora of dancehalls that celebrated Jamaican culture, a distinct cultural setting displayed in Steve McQueen’s excellent 2020 film “Lovers Rock,” which you can still see on Amazon Prime Video.
The Frightnrs utilized the genre’s rich history when lead singer Klein met keyboard player Chuck Patel in 2011 at an NYC underground reggae party. The two bonded over a love of the movement’s sound evoking vintage Jamaica, and they recruited drummer Rich Terrana and Patel’s brother Preet to play bass. The group spent years honing its roots-influenced style but was careful to avoid mere cultural appropriation; The Frightnrs were committed to learning the rhythms and technical approach to rocksteady. Klein expressed that he wanted to respect his inspiration and not merely copy it, stating in an interview with NPR, “I sing in my regular voice; I sing as an American.”
Word about the group spread, and after a series of locally produced singles and EPs, The Frightnrs signed a deal with Brooklyn’s Daptone Records, a label notable for releasing music devoted to the sounds of vintage R&B, such as albums by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. In 2016, The Frightnrs entered the studio to record “Nothing More to Say,” their first full-length record, but the group knew something was not right with Klein—his vocals sounded strong, but he appeared physically weak. Shortly after, Klein was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or “Lou Gehrig’s” disease), the degenerative and fatal neuromuscular disease. The group finished the album, and Klein participated in interviews with the press, but tragically, he did not live to see the release of “Nothing More To Say.” Klein succumbed to ALS at age 33 in June 2016, just a few months before the album’s release.
Press at the time emphasized both the shock of Klein’s death and the strength and beauty of The Frightnrs’ music, but Klein’s death had unfortunately limited what undoubtedly would have been a remarkable career for the group. The music on “Nothing More to Say” is proof—it channels the rich cultural and sonic history of vintage rocksteady rhythms but does not feel trite or derivative. Many crucial elements come together to create this terrific album; at the center are Klein’s remarkable vocals, where he expertly employs a trademark of the genre—the falsetto. Klein’s distinctive high voice is soulful and expressive, comparable to the best singing of the original rocksteady bands. The songwriting on “Nothing More To Say” is uniformly strong (aside from two covers, all the songs are attributed to Klein or the group), and, in my opinion, there are no weak tracks (“skips”). Victor Axelrod’s album production is purist, capturing the texture of the danceable baselines and drummer Terrana’s effective rhythms.
Listening to “Nothing More To Say” today is a profound experience: It evokes valleys of human emotion, melancholic ruminations, sorrowful memories and forlorn, dogged resistance. The comfort in the low-fidelity and steady beats feels entrancing, expanded to a spectral composition as Klein’s eternally desperate crooning breaks the heart. His lyrics adopt the position of the hopeless romantic, clinging onto lost relationships and uttering direct admissions of passion; his voice adopts an ethereality, half of this world and half removed. “Nothing More To Say” is a bittersweet reminder of the transience of life and the timelessness of art. The album immortalizes Klein, a ghost that haunts its record grooves and breathes spine-chilling dual meaning into every sorrowful word. Through listening to the music of the departed, we venerate their memories and honor their accomplishments in life and the beauty they left behind in death.
To explore key tracks by The Frightnrs and music that inspired them, such as songs by Sugar Minott, Myrna Hague, and Alton Ellis, I’ve put together a playlist that incorporates these tracks into a listening set. It’s amazing how The Frightnrs blend in seamlessly next to their idols!