Frog Eyes’ frontman Carey Mercer has said Violet Psalms – the band’s goodbye record, out late last week on Paper Bag – was written and recorded like a debut, “when there’s no expectation that anyone will actually listen.”
“The goal was to disorientate,” he added.
Frog Eyes has made quite a habit of disorientating listeners throughout the last decade and change, carving up Bizarro art-rock led, quite affectively, by Mercer’s stagy timbre. Violent Psalms is not a departure, but apt punctuation. It also happens to be one of the group’s most cohesive and singular achievements to date. When you hear it, you’ll be truly sad they’re going off into the indie-world sunset.
Now, I’m a huge, huge fan of Pickpocket’s Locket, the group’s last LP, out in 2015. (“I Ain’t Around Much,” a layered affair, was a landmark.) But, while that record consisted of shockingly original moments, songs even, the new LP hangs together as a larger message, with knottier threads and strands binding it. What is Frog Eyes telling us? Well, that, as always, is a little opaque. We get ruminations on weird relationships and the occasional foreboding, apparently, about the state of world affairs but it all seems secondary to the colors on display.
And what colors! The record seems a statement in itself, at times at least, on the efficacy of reverbed guitar shrapnel and bleeding synths. And it should be duly noted the band, which cut and pasted together the drums note by note, does wonders sometimes with making a kit sound like found percussion. But, don’t be mistaken, it’s not a busy scene they’re painting. Most of the tracks here border on the skeletal, with lots of empty space, where narratives are suggested more than affirmed. The bass cuts in and out, the synths and electronic pulses wander, the clutter of recording hangs bare on the walls. The only constant is Mercer’s trademark yowl.
It’s far, though, from a formula and, if the record puts one forward, it’s the equivalent of a sonic anti-hero. The LP contains at least two excellent tracks – the poppy “Idea Man” and the triumphant surge of energy dubbed “Pay For Fire” – and, on both, Frog Eyes works to hold together the sentiment with the glue of a quartet. (“Don’t Sleep Under Stars” is excellent, too. As is “Sleek as the Day is Done.” Okay, the whole thing’s great.) This is not just some studio experimentation; this is a collection of songs, hummable songs that just happen to take great pleasure in deconstructing in front of you. And when they fade into ether, you, too, will long for more. Last record? Yeah, Carey, we’re all listening.