Miss FD: 'Monsters in the Industry' - CD Review


I've been a fan of Florida-based electro-pop artist Miss FD (who once recorded and performed under the name Frightdoll) for a couple of years now, and I’ve been digging her energetic goth-electro vibe from the beginning. Monsters in the Industry, her first full-length album under the Miss FD title, delivers something entirely new and surprising – it’s darker, more thoughtful, and filled with the kind of raw emotional power that's pretty damn rare for a pop album. Monsters was officially released last month, but since this weekend FD will be performing the new songs live for the first time, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn about the personal journey that informs every note of this hauntingly fun record.

Since this was a very personal project, I decided to ditch the usual Q&A-style interview and dig deeper into the creative process behind the album – a tale of fear, darkness, self-realization and finally hope, all within a structure of wicked-cool beats, elaborate soundscapes and sensuous vocals. Read on and find out how FD faced her Monsters...

As devotees of the dark arts, we all know how music can summon up monsters of the mind – creations which help us face down the horrors of real life – and that's something Miss FD has done through her own work, progressing from the intense dance-pop of her earlier projects to the more introspective, clever and mystical themes explored here. Monsters in the Industry is as much a chronicle of the artist's own emotional journey as it is about finding find strength and hope in the face of literally horrific odds – coming out stronger, wiser and more conscious of our place in the universe.

“Monsters was a rather big step for me personally,” FD told me, “to be able to become open in sharing a situation that I had felt captive in, for almost three years. It wasn’t only about sharing the specific situation, but also about allowing myself to express the emotions I was experiencing… not just to the rest of the world, but to myself.” She went on to explain how Monsters was a first step in breaking down the emotional walls she had once placed between herself and others... and in turn, she discovered she was breaking down musical barriers too. “This album not only allowed me to expose different aspects of myself,” she continues, “it allowed me to find my own level of comfort in letting my voice come through without being drowned by layers of distortion and effects.”

Despite the darker spin she's taken with this project, FD pointed out that Monsters isn't a gloomy piece... it's still dance-pop at heart, which offers a healthy balance to the weighty emotional tone. “I didn’t want to make this a 'depressing' album,” she says. “It’s about finding strength even through the most difficult situations and finding the value in the experiences I had. I felt that the best way to express this was through a 'happier' musical structure to create balance, and also to prove to myself that I can find different forms of expression musically, without losing the elements that are the core of my foundation.”

Those elements include a sly sense of humor and an instinctive feel for solid beats and intricate but distinct layers of sound... and she's also right to remove some of the once-thick layers of vocal effects and other sonic treatments to reveal a rich and resonant voice that is equal parts little-girl-lost and jaded denizen of darkness. It’s a move that perfectly suits the emotional journey that plays out over these eleven tracks.

Monsters in the Industry tells a story from beginning to end,” FD explains. “It captures the range of emotions experienced from what at first may seem like a devastating situation of entrapment... to starting anew, establishing once again our own connections with ourselves and the Universe, and finding again the inner strength to continue in our paths, with a regained feeling of hope, in having succeeded at conquering our own states of defeat and allowing ourselves to grow into stronger beings.”

The album is divided into phases – partially based on the symbolism of the tarot card deck, particularly the images of the Sun and Moon, The Tower and The Wheel of Fortune, and significant characters like The Fool and The Magician. Even the album’s artwork reflects the symbolic nature of the songs, with hints of tarot imagery in strategic places – from the obvious (FD poised on the “paper moon” on the front panel) to the subtle (the same configurations of stars from “The Star” card on the flipside of that panel). These classic symbols embody the steps of this journey, which begins with the crushing feelings of fear and anger in the emotionally intense Break Your Control, with its buzzing bass line and striking layered vocals, and the minor-key drones and unsettling distorted beats of Disgrace, before FD's biting humor emerges in the wickedly funny title track, which she says is all about “pointing out the ridiculousness of it all.”

A cloud of despair dominates the next section, embodied in the menacing Wanderer and the experimental textures of Elements Off Time – the title of the latter being a play on words, reflecting how life’s circumstances can often seem way out of sync. The sense of breaking through and moving forward starts to emerge in the next section, beginning with the silky, exotic Rebel Apprentice – a song about, in FD's words, “leaving behind attachments but taking with you the knowledge gained from the experiences” – and the hypnotic and powerful Dream Door, which itself is inspired by one of the artist's own dreams.

“I dreamed that I walked into a club,” FD explains. “On the second floor, there were just a whole bunch of empty wooden benches, kind of like an old pub... there was only one person there. He was an old wizard-looking man, with long white hair, a long white beard, and long white robes. I approached him and told him that I really liked the song that was playing... I asked him what song this was. His reply: 'It’s yours, you wrote it.'” She went on to explain how later in the dream she found herself approached by “Industrial Monks” – in traditional robes, but with goth club accessories and eyeliner – and felt herself undergo a physical transformation before awakening.

In the mellow-toned but solid and club-friendly track Enter the Void, the album's protagonist breaks through the wall of dreams and returns to the “real” world, only to find those universal connections hidden deep beneath our fabricated reality. In the ‘80s synth-pop flavored Realigned, she searches for that underlying truth and finds it within herself. It's this realization that gives energy to the bold and anthemic cut Thunder in the Blood, which reflects the courage that she calls “the fire pulsing through our veins.” The album closes, appropriately, with When the Sun Sets, in which the little-girl vocal is accompanied by a gently drifting piano line, depicting a hopeful new beginning in its images of enfolding darkness.

If Monsters in the Industry represents the beginning of a new career phase for the multi-talented Miss FD, then I'd have to say she's already off to a great start. From her songwriting to her visual presentation, she's put a personal stamp on every aspect of the album, and it's that intimate approach that sets it apart from more conventional electro-pop: the “monsters” lurking in these tracks are more of the emotional kind, and FD does battle with them on the same terms – and with humor, wisdom and grace.

Be sure to check out Miss FD's website for sample tracks and ordering info... and if you're near the West Palm Beach area Saturday, check out her show at Respectable Street Cafe, where she'll be performing the new songs live for the first time.