Cecil Frena, formerly known as Born Gold, has never really stuck to one genre, but has always been known for his tender, poignant lyrics and experimental, pop-leaning sounds. It was only since abandoning that previous moniker in favor of using his god-given name that his sound has taken a turn for the heavy. While his first album from this new project, last year’s superb The Gridlock, played with a fuzzier, more rock-leaning style, it’s clear from a first glance at the almost ironic cover photo that Pit Boss is another big step in a new direction. While this is not the artist’s first foray into a heavier sound, until now, the analog instruments he used always served to accentuate the mainly electronic-focused songs. There’s still some of Frena’s signature synth work here, but it’s sparse, with the band-sound clearly meant to be more of the focus. There is also a conscious effort on Frena’s part to sing in a more guttural way — in order to match the grittier sonics he’s utilizing — which stands in total opposition to his usual, sensitive vocal style. Totally buying into the concept of Pit Boss can feels a little forced, the style of this sound more surface level (as on the aggressive “You Can Say Never”). But this is still mostly a mirthful set, as on “Are You a Cop,” with its female vocals and comedic tone.
Frena is clearly just enjoying himself in this new artistic space, realizing he’s no longer limited to the poignant and raw, yet often melodramatic, sound of Born Gold.
“Fake it Like a Man” starts with Frena introducing himself, and admitting that he’s “doing pretty goddamn well” — as if to prove that this sudden decision to put out a heavy album is not some poseur attempt to explore a ‘darker’ direction, but rather quite the opposite. Likewise, on “Baby You Got This,” which sounds more like it should be playing over the training montage of an ’80s movie than in the middle of a pop artist’s experimental “punk” album, Frena is clearly just enjoying himself in this new artistic space, realizing he’s no longer limited to the poignant and raw, yet often melodramatic, sound of Born Gold. The track that reaches an almost perfect equilibrium between the punk sound Frena is aiming for and his inherent, catchy pop songwriting sensibilities, though, is “Titan,” which would fit nicely on an early AFI album (which I mean in the best way). Album closer “‘Now I Remember” is likewise an exceptional emo song that wouldn’t feel out of place on a promising indie band’s debut. Pit Boss is by far Frena’s biggest step away from the sentimental pop that he’s best known for; however, instead of feeling alien and forced, more than anything this album shows the true extent of Frena’s creative range, and how refreshing his music can be when he just does whatever he wants.