Review: Caleb Fritel’s Comfort and Compromise
I met Caleb Fritel at an industry mixer a few weeks ago in the Highlands Nightclub, smack-dab in the heart of Hollywood, California. It’s a location with the feel of a refurbished cave – despite being pretty fancy, the interior’s got a certain dark, gritty aesthetic, while the high, spacious stone walls and ceilings and dim lighting felt odd during the day. Nonetheless all the faces present within were bright, amped, and more than a little anxious, most flitting from group to group to make themselves known in the flurry of traded business cards and heard over the din of the projector and clopping of high heels and rubber soles.
The club is in a noisy little cubbyhole flanked by the famous Chinese Theater, at which many a star-studded premiere takes place, and several pricy little boutiques and cafes. Tourists from the world over mill about like the frenzied denizens of a kicked anthill at all hours of the day.
Gathered inside the Highlands Nightclub was a throng of other hopefuls all seeking sponsorship for various events or projects and sharing promotional ideas on a panel of speakers. It looked like a marketplace where artisans came from strange lands to peddle their wares, tell stories, gnaw on monstrous turkey legs and take in a good jousting match – except these were very modern times; the merchants were artists, label heads, corporate marketing types, and random stragglers like myself w came in support of speakers. It was a strange amalgamation indeed. I was not inside for even two minutes when I was greeted by a greying, bearded man in a black shirt who at first seemed to wonder if he knew me from somewhere. He didn’t.
When I later divulged that I was a freelance writer/reviewer catering mostly to Heavy Metal, but with hopes of branching out to alternative music, he excitedly excused himself and turned on heel, speed walking back to a row of chairs where a young man with shaggy brown hair was sitting with his back to us. He apparently startled the seated guy, but the two of them quickly returned to me together and I learned that the younger was an independent musician by the name of Caleb.
Caleb is a North Dakotan who made the pilgrimage to California to fight for his dream, like many other entertainment types before him. And he certainly won’t be the last. He began his efforts here in Southern California wielding drumsticks for an outfit called Starving For Gravity, and last year he resumed where he’d left off at the University of North Dakota in his music studies at San Diego State University. He’s unassuming, soft-spoken, and apparently shy – taking a line from his own lyrics, he’s “a man of too few words and too much to say”. However a whole new facet of him emerges when he enters “the zone”. On His YouTube channel, to which I’ve provided a link at the bottom of this feature, you can see his covers of the Incubus favorite “Drive”, Coldplay’s “Til Kingdom Come”, Oasis’ “Wonderwall”, Stone Temple Pilots‘ “Plush”, his rendition of NeedtoBreathe‘s “More Time” and Cage the Elephant‘s “No Rest for the Wicked”.
Also on his channel are two of his original songs – “Miss You” and “If I Never” – from his first studio album Comfort and Compromise.
The album is based on a series of recent events in his life and while at times has a downtrodden, defeated quality to it (maybe mournful, even) there are streaks of light and hope running throughout it. His is an optimistic, soulful, and heartfelt opus that would make a fitting soundtrack for an adventure story and a comforting nod to those who have felt like giving up on the “impossible” quest of self-realization.
Comfort and Compromise fades in with an airy, atmospheric piano intro. There is a clear likeness to Canadian alt-rockers Our Lady Peace from the get-go, and it’s no surprise – Caleb cites them as one of his influences. He even sounds a fair deal like OLP frontman Raine Maida, vocally. His voice is gritty and unpolished, adding a raw and homegrown touch to the record. It’s refreshing that his live videos sound quite a bit like the professional takes on the disc; so basically what you hear on the album is what you can expect at one of his gigs; I have a strong disdain for over-produced, pretentious music.
“Miss You” gently pines for the company of absent person, someone he left behind by his own choice according to the lyrics, but there is a certain confidence in the way Caleb spins the song that tells us he knows he’ll see this person (presumably a love interest) again. While apparently ashamed of or regretful about the path he’s chosen, he seems to be courting the idea of returning and making amends – and the song ends on an audible question mark, unresolved but not undefeated or bleak. “If I Never” is similar thematically; once again, it’s Caleb’s desire to reconnect with people from his past, but this time it is they who have apparently let him down or abandoned him in some form. He is playing on his own insecurities as well; it almost sounds as if he’s blaming himself for their shortcomings, not wanting to believe in circumstances outside his control and the underlying fact that he audibly realizes deep down – people can be quite cold. He asks, “If you never see me again, will it matter?” The contrast between the two and handles his role from both ends of the heartbreak equation is interesting.
The entire album is a frustrated whimper, in a way – the underlying motif being existential curiosity; “Who am I, and what the hell is this all about? What am I here for, exactly, and what do all these other things and people have to do with me? I’m complacent because I have to keep my head afloat, but as soon as things start to make sense they change again!”
I think I best liked the pace of “A Lie”; it’s energetic and again seems to have been very heavily inspired by OLP.
One of the things that impressed me about Caleb is that he’s not merely a guitar player and a singer – as I already mentioned, he’s an experienced percussionist, but he also juggled the piano and the marimba duties on this release, rounded out with bass work by Chris Bradshaw and guitar support from Chris Luebeck.
The Comfort and Compromise artwork and tracklisting are as follows:
03. If I Never
04. The Past is a Thief
05. Miss You
06. Run Away
09. Moving On
The album was recorded, mixed, mastered, and produced by Sean Redding and Caleb Fritel (also the writer) at The Recording Farm in Temecula, CA.
You can listen to Comfort and Compromise and purchase a copy here.