Frog Eyes - Violet Psalms

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2018-05-18
Frog Eyes - Violet Psalms
Frog Eyes - Violet Psalms

Apparently, this is the final Frog Eyes album. That’s a shame. It was a wild ride. Most of Tears of the Valedictorian was just fun house rollercoaster music that always rocked in a very odd way. If it were possible to find something that was hiding in the back of the backbeat, well, they found it. Sure, Frog Eyes, the vehicle for the art of Carey Mercer, is an idiosyncratic, twisted, and just plain odd rock ‘n’ roll band. But they are always interesting, and sometimes, weirdly profound, what with song titles like “Picture Framing the Gigantic Man Who Fought on Steam Boats,” “A Latex Ice Age,” “I Like Dot Dot Dot,” and (my favorite), “Time Reveals Its Plan at Poisoned Falls.”

So, yeah, the antenna has to be adjusted a bit to get the best reception with this one.

This new record, Violet Psalms, is a long way from those early open throttle calliope days and continues with the much more mild-mannered Bizarro World tunesmithing of the absolutely great Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph, which, oddly enough, contained a song “Violent Psalms,” which is  similar to the title of this album, Violet Psalms. But they are not related, so no Christmas cards are necessary.

But really, for the initiate, this post-punk Frog Eyes music might well appeal to fans of Peter Hammill, Wire, Pere Ubu, Howard DeVoto, Captain Beefheart, early XTC (“I’ll Set Myself on Fire” comes to mind), PIL, Roxy Music, The Tragically Hip, Destroyer, Wolf Parade, Swan Lake (Carey Mercer’s other band), and of course David Bowie, if he ever made a really abstract album. My friend, Kilda Defnut, says she hears a wonderfully demented take of Bruce Springsteen in a song like “A Flower in the Glove” from the before-mentioned Paul’s Tomb.

One time, I read a great book called, Music, The Brain, And Ecstasy: How the Brain Captures Our Imagination by Robert Jourdain. Now, in all fairness, the book was way beyond my comprehension, but one idea struck me: (and I’m paraphrasing) Musicians can deconstruct the obvious conventions of music and then reassemble those pieces in weird places. It’s just like the Picasso painting Woman in Hat and Fur Collar, or the one sentence chapter from William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying that simply states, “My mother is fish.” Of course, this record by a Vancouver rock band certainly doesn’t rank with the likes of Picasso and Faulkner, because this is only rock ‘n’ roll, but the premise is the same. The mind must work to adjust to the new syntax, and as stated, the antenna has to be adjusted a bit. Synapses in the brain have to do funny things. Now, that’s never easy, but it can be a lot of fun.

Incidentally, my friend, Kilda Defnut, who hears a Bruce Springsteen vibe in Frog Eyes’ music, truly believes that another Vancouver band, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, can gamble at the same table as Picasso and William Faulkner.

We often argue about that one.

The very first song, “A Strand of Blue Stars” is a work of rock ‘n’ roll art. The guitar stretches reality. Carey Mercer’s vocals do sound (at least to me) like David Bowie as he sang “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” especially when Ziggy pleaded “You are not alone gimme your hands.” And that’s a great moment in rock.

There are more songs: “Little Mothers” is slow and dramatic. It examines the nuances of a Fifties’ poodle-skirted stroll into the big dance. But every aspect of that promenade is isolated and suddenly deemed important, in an eerie sort of way, and worthy of neglect from The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. But, really, it’s just a great tune. As is “Idea Man,” which is up-tempo and catchy, and again, a song with David Bowie chart potential. “On A Finely Sewn Sleeve” is yet another Bowie-like song. It’s laced with drama, a nice guitar here and there, and sad passion.

The record continues with “Don’t Sleep Under Stars.” This is more off-kilter rock music. And truly, mention must be made of the drumming of Melanie Campbell, who has been such a sympathetic partner in this music. A guitar that sounds like a foghorn ushers in “Sleek as the Day Is Done.” This simply put, is more dramatic rock music, with a cranky guitar solo.

Now, it’s been an interesting ride for rock music ever since The Beatles’ White Album, which pretty much covered all the bases. But “Your Boss’s Shirt” has an Eastern vibe and a patented Carey Mercer falsetto that can still draw a crowd into the medicine tent. “Itch of Summer” does the same thing. This tune pleads its innocence in a world that wants condemnation. “Unconscious Missive” continues with even more Bowie-like drama. 

“Pray for Fire” concludes the record with a wonderful vocal that oscillates, and then bleeds into nice wisdom and a furious guitar bit that ebbs into a gentle farewell.

What’s there to say? This is a stately end to a band’s sad demise. It has lost some of the earlier rough and ready dictum. But it has discovered the notes hidden between the notes that stretch the reality of rock music as it always wants to be stretched into something great, something that finds the best of Bowie, something’s that’s idiosyncratic, something that is odd, something that’s bit profound; but, ultimately, it’s just another rock ’n’ roll record, an album that simply wants to fire up the synapses in the brain in a wild way and desperately desires to shout right out loud, to (almost) quote the great Jerry Lee Lewis, there’s still a whole lotta weird shakin still goin on.­

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