Nobody would blame you if at least one tear rolled out of your eye as you listened to Carey Mercer’s fervid vocal tones. Poll Frog Eyes fans on the reason they love listening to the band, and hearing Mercer’s voice wail away emotionally would reel in a bulk of the votes. If there’s one thing all Frog Eyes records have in common, it’s that the extent of Mercer’s vocal chops are frequented, but that might actually be about it.
2015’s ‘Pickpocket’s Locket’ saw Frog Eyes juggle freakiness and baroque, while walking a tightrope of musical rectitude, like some kind of fucked up, audio-only circus. The outcome was one of success, as it snubbed the slightly more conventional collection of ‘songs for songwriters’ that was 2013’s ‘Carey’s Cold Spring’.
It looks like Frog Eyes have taken the mild anti-song approach of ‘Pickpocket’s Locket’ and stuck with it on new release ‘Violet Psalms’, and I really mean stuck with it, adhesively, impossible to let go.
You won’t have the band’s songwriting methods sussed, and just when you think you do, you’ll get 180’d again. This particular collection of psalms is based around slow builds, with a strange lack of choruses, see ‘Idea Man’, which seems to repeatedly build on its main organ line, and ‘Sleek as the Day is Done’, moping around with the odd instrumental break and chord progression change, but again, it’s like one long verse.
Barring the accessible guitar riffs of ‘A Strand of Blue Stars’ and ‘Your Boss’s Shirt’, expecting musical normality of Frog Eyes these days will be your doom. Giving ‘Violet Psalms’ too much of your attention might also end up being your doom, because a lot of the band’s more linear work of the past actually suited them a lot more. On ‘Little Mothers’, the album’s main highlight, you’ll still be able to enjoy Carey Mercer’s extraordinary voice, almost gospel-esque on the track, but there’s a good chance you’ll be wishing for a little more structural simplicity, as the band’s showiness never really pays off here, making for one big empty package.
Whether or not your eyes are amphibious, there’s no need to avert them away from ‘Violet Psalms’, because Frog Eyes still have a few artistic tricks up their collective sleeve that you might appreciate, but the album tumbles so far away from the remarkable songwriting of the band’s past, that sooner rather than later, you’ll have to stop falling back on “well, at least they’re eccentric”.
‘Violet Psalms’ is out now via Paper Bag Records