This ‘Frog Eyes’ article was written by Ben Malkin, a GIGsoup contributor
‘Pickpocket’s Locket’ sees Frog Eyes get more crazed, more intense and more baroque. Already one of Canada’s most unique indie rock ensembles; the band has managed to produce music that leaps back and forth between spectrums of emotion; from sweet to psychotic. 2013’s ‘Carey’s Cold Spring’ may have been their crowning achievement for balancing the strange and the inspiring as the quirky lyricism and soundscape resumed, but with a personal quality also being withheld. Around the completion of said album, vocalist Carey Mercer went through a number of personal experiences, including a battle with throat cancer and the death of his father. While the latter does seem to be referenced on this new album, it’s difficult to tell how big a part these experiences play in some of the more emotional portions, when considering that same personal quality was notable on previous Frog Eyes albums. The heart breaking croons making their way out of Mercer’s mouth are as present as ever, and that familiar beaten up vocal style does seem to stem from a wounded man.
It’s hard not to dig that vocal delivery, and it feels as intense as ever, even with calming string arrangements being played beside it. Even when relaxed, those breathy tones still have a hint of boozy paranoia, much like Jim Morrison but a lot more jittery – with that level of influence also taken to the delivery of the first line of ‘Rejoinders in a Storm’, which is identical to the main melody of ‘Riders on the Storm’ by The Doors. The performance approach is perfect for the quirky style of lyricism – it’s hard not to be captivated by the very first line of the album, “I’ve got two girls, one for heaven and the other one for Rome, one for the bishop in his cracked, crystal dome”. This makes way for a continuation of non-linear stories and intriguing narratives, but also for moments of sadness – with a memorable example being the line “my voice is everywhere, my voices go nowhere” from ‘I Ain’t Around Much’ as Mercer tearfully howls his way through the process of ‘saying goodbye’. The level of emotion produced results in a chaotic climax in the closing track ‘Rip Down the Fences That Fence the Garden’, with a tremendously emotive chorus with Mercer’s voice towering above an otherworldly supply of instrumentation.
Speaking of instrumentation, we can’t let the rest of the band go unnoticed. Music’s greatest source of sadness, the violin is constantly present, playing it’s part in the creation of rich textures and a weird sense of maturity. There’s a great moment towards the end of ‘Rejoinders in a Storm’ where the violin ditches elegance for confrontation, and a dagger-sharp riff brings the song to a bloody finish. Guitars and pianos still make appearances, as well as a fitting, varied rhythm section.
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The aforementioned stylistics are solidly kept up through the album, creating a really nice flow. In spite of this, some of the compositions themselves are lacking in places – while some songs are brilliantly constructed, some feel like they’re about to get increasingly dramatic, but things suddenly come to a strange, uninspired halt. Take ‘The Demon Runner’ for example, the instruments build up and almost grab you, but they then plummet back into emptier sections that overstay their welcome, with no real transition. These moments are probably intentional attempts at creating slightly different atmospheres, and farfetched movements and passages – but a couple of more linear arrangements, while maintaining the band’s common traits, could’ve fit really well with the rest of the madness on show – For instance, ‘The Country Child’ from Frog Eyes’ previous album; a great example of the band managing to be as stylistically different as anyone, but with memorable, well-constructed verses and choruses. ‘Pickpocket’s Locket’ is strong, but it could’ve been even stronger with a few more of those kinds of compositions. Still, this doesn’t get in the way of things too much, there is enough songwriting brilliance scattered around to make up for any dullness in places.
‘Pickpocket’s Locket’ might be Frog Eyes’ most expressive release yet, with a fantastic amount of variety to boot. With devilish lyrical/vocal combinations intertwined with angelic instrumentation, the sense of juxtaposition is both strong and startling; it’s like Hell and Heaven in one, but with violins and vibrato vocals.
‘Pickpocket’s Locket’ is out now on Paper Bag Records