Monday, October 15, 2007

Frog Eyes / "Tears of the Valedictorian"



Carey Mercer is one crazy mother-fucker. His band, Frog Eyes, has been making some of the most bizarre, yet compelling, music on the indie scene since 2003's left-field gem "The Golden River." One thing which has always been true of Frog Eyes' music is that is an acquired taste, and while that remains true on their latest release "Tears of the Valedictorian", it is also the group's most accessible album to date. This is not to say it is entirely accessible to first-time listeners though.

"Valedictorian" sounds like a bizarre hybrid of Berlin-era Bowie (best example: "Bushels") and Xiu Xiu (best example: "Idle Songs"), all while maintaining Frog Eyes' like-no-other-band-on-Earth sound. It opens with the aforementioned "Idle Songs", a relentless push of keyboards, drums, and Mercer using the voice-as-instrument technique to the best of his ability. It's a good song, but it sounds like it could be put right on to Xiu Xiu's "Fabulous Muscles" and consequently loses points for lack of originality. It's followed by "Caravan Breakers, They Prey on the Weak and the Old". The band is much more in form this time out. Vocal harmonies, guitar solos played behind heavy distortion, keyboards, and drums; nothing is spared, and all of it is excellent. The excitement and energy coming from the band and their leader is nothing short of inspiring. Next up is "Stockades", which sounds like Bowie on cocaine. The vocal sound is unmistakeably Bowie-esque, but the rapid-fire speed of both the guitar line and the vocals makes the song all Mercer's.

It fades out before "Reform the Countryside" comes pounding in. Mercer is seemingly unaware of his backing band much of the time. He speaks/sings/screams his lyrics throughout the song at his own will, with the exception of the occasional vocal harmony. However, the song is strangely beautiful, though hampered by a bizarre ending where Mercer repeats a single phrase with his only accompaniment as hand claps before a short keyboard chord cuts off Mercer and the track.
"The Policy Merchant, The Silver Bay" is a short, minimal track which covers very little ground. Luckily "Evil Energy, the Ill Twin of..." is a frenzied, wonderful song with Mercer rambling off lyrics so quickly they have no time to be understood. His voice again serves better as an instrument than means of delivering lyrics, and along with the guitar and rising/falling piano line, it is one of the most high-energy songs on the album.

It's counterpart, "... Eagle Energy", is vastly different. Mercer sings slower and in his most traditional voice. The sonics are more relaxing, a floating guitar line backed by light drums and faint keys. Though in a completely different style than "Evil Energy", it is equally as effective. "Bushels", a behemoth 9-minute song which sounds as though it were a Bowie tribute (think Berlin-era), follows. Mercer does his best to carry the song and keep it from becoming repetitive, but it still ultimately lags following the quick one-two punch of the "Energy" tracks, which together were under five minutes. The album closes with the extremely bizarre, but somehow relaxing "My Boats They Go". The song lasts only one minute, and consists of Mercer sing-speaking in a tone that's virtually impossible to decipher with soft accompaniment before fading out and closing out the album.

"Valedictorian" is certainly a grower. At times, it aims so high it trips over its own ambition ("Bushels"). Other times it doesn't aim high enough to create interest ("The Policy Merchant, The Silver Bay"). When it does aim and strike properly, as is the case on many of the album's tracks, it is a thing of beauty to behold. It's the kind of album, that while not a masterpiece itself, shows all the signs of a band and its leader ready to unleash one.

Rating: 8.3

2 comments:

The_Janitor said...

Check out Nato Caliph, you can download an aentire album at spiralfrog.com free and legally. I don't know if you'll like his music, but i certainly do.

showtime inc. said...

hukriede. i miss the sports posts. i want a patriots domination post.