just don’t expect groups that sound like Frog Eyes (or are named Frog Eyes) to
go for the grandeur – reach for the transcendent – that has long been
considered the elusive goal, the Holy Grail, of pop music taking itself
seriously as art.
Eyes, a British Columbia
band led by prolific singer/songwriter/guitarist Carey Mercer, is already on
its (official) fifth album, Paul’s Tomb:
A Triumph (Dead Oceans) – and Mercer has also been involved in side
projects. Their sound – sludgy, feedbacky and loud hard rock with an
uber-emotional, messy lead singer who yelps, shouts and constantly threatens to
overdose with portentousness – seems closer to self-parody than to the kind of
lyricism or imaginative arrangements that lead to rock breakthroughs.
that’s unfair – the Stooges had that kind of sound – and “I Wanna Be Your Dog”
is nothing if not transcendent. But Iggy had that baritone gravitas, not the
choked, strained voice of Mercer.
listen a bit beyond the stylistic trappings of the sound and you’ll hear a
strong melodicism, thought-through playing (even though it was recorded
live-to-tape) that allows for quiet passages, some inventive guitar and
keyboard work, and a magnificent way of catching the full inherent drama of
great rock at peak moments and riding it forward like a huge wave.
band’s sound isn’t an end to itself, but as a means to something more. When
Mercer breaks into an impassioned “because the river is bad, the river is cold” in the 8+-minute opener, “A
Flower in the Glove,” it is as thrilling a moment as rock has produced so far
And the quartet keeps it going – with a relatively
consistent sound but a variety of tempos and approaches – for another eight
songs, (almost) finishing with “Paul’s Tomb’s” pleading that “THERE’S ALWAYS HOPE! HOPE!
THERE’S ALWAYS HOPE! SHACKLE YOUR WRISTS TO THE RAZOR-LIKE RIM! HOLD ON
TO THE EDGE OF THE RAZOR-LIKE RIM!” (The lyric sheet provided by Dead Oceans
has this passage in all-caps.)
At the album’s conclusion, you feel like you’ve been
transported somewhere. Where, one isn’t certain. The album title, as well as
the song names, point to thematic connections. The lyrics, not easy to hear
without repeated listening (or a lyric sheet), are densely descriptive,
imagist, inciting and allusive to the point of surrealism, but also sometimes
endearingly direct, as in “Lear, in the Park’s” “I kissed a girl, she was the only one who seemed to own a shard of light,
She’s all right, and it’s all right.”
Quite beautiful, really. And this is a terrific rock
Flower in a Glove,” “Odetta’s War” STEVEN