Music review: Frog Eyes
Make no mistake: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada-based band Frog Eyes aren’t the amphibious offshoots of cacophonous rabble-rousers Wolf Eyes. These “Eyes” are a whole different breed of animal. On The Folded Palm, the group’s first album for Absolutely Kosher and third overall, Frog Eyes fuse a unique sound encompassing lush, bittersweet organ melodies, reverb-heavy guitars, the freewheeling antics of a wild-eyed, psychotic vocalist (think Gary Wilson if he really went over the edge) and a deranged cabaret, almost carnivalesque stylistic imprint suggestive of Tom Waits.
For the first half or so, The Folded Palm often recalls going a few rounds with a street junkie fighting for a pastrami sandwich; each track manages to one-up the last, coming at you like multiple K.O. punches from a boxer who’s just lined his gloves with B.B.’s. The opening two tracks, “The Fence Feels Its Post” and “The Akhian Press,” act as bold mission statements from a band with something commanding to say with its sound, and set the tempo for the rest of the album. “I Like Dot Dot Dot” rocks like a garage band headed by kids from the short bus while “Important Signals Will Break The Darkness” is a lovely ballad that kind of evokes a less morose Nick Cave. But it’s “The Oscillator’s Hum” that truly comprises everything that makes Frog Eyes so incredible.
Singer Casey Mercer’s spastic vocals veer in and out of a contagious hook supported by a dominant piano progression and an economical but no less driving rhythm section, which keeps things from falling too far by the wayside. As Mercer sings the mostly unintelligible chorus (I can make out “The oscillator hums when the pastor preacher strums and I hit a wooden drum”) the tension escalates beneath him as if the oscillator he’s singing about is on the verge of bursting. By the end of the song’s swift two minutes and 28 seconds, eerie synth lines, feedback-induced guitar, and at least two key changes have passed by. The result embodies the Frog Eyes’ sound perfectly: a song and sound that bowls listeners over with its manic intensity, but also one that will keep them coming back to catch what they missed in the frenzy.
After the splendid glory of “The Oscillator’s Hum,” the
record unfortunately starts to lose its pace a bit. It’s true that the
last third of the record drags a little and ends up keeping The Folded Palm from
soaring to truly magnificent heights (save “Russian Berries But
You’re Quiet Tonight,” the triumphant closing track that sounds like
the end of a Christmas movie featuring Pere Ubu as the backing band), but you
simply cannot deny the power of the Frog Eyes’ sound. It’s a sound
that can shake you out of that stupor inflicted by so much bland, faceless indie
rock. It’s a sound that can take you to a strange, piebald world - one
I’d much rather be visiting now than avoiding a medieval art history exam.
The Folded Palm is a fine record from a band I hope to be hearing more from in