Review Summary: Tell them you’re sick and drunk and feel fine
It’s sad that this most likely will fall on deaf ears. And it’s even sadder that I understand why.
Frog Eyes (at this point) was Carey Mercer, Melanie Campbell, Spencer Krug, and Michael Rak. After forming in 2001, the group spent a year recording what I’d consider one of 2002’s best records with The Bloody Hand. A mesmerizing blend of indie rock and art pop, it’s a treat from start to finish. But, you have to remember one very pertinent detail, my dear reader: it was an indie rock album released in 2002. What a terrible fate. Needless to say, there was a lot of competition in that area at the time. And in the end, Frog Eyes didn’t gain as big a following as their peers. So when I say a review of Frog Eyes’ The Bloody Hand with fall on deaf ears, I mean it figuratively and literally; by which I mean anyone who had a set of ears in the early-aughts probably have to wear hearing aids after the utter assault they suffered. But I’d like to make a case for this record (and this band), because I feel like a new crop of listeners have their ears perked up and their thumbs in the used CD bin. They’ve heard all the classics, but now it’s time to dig a bit deeper. And if that’s the case, you can’t go wrong here.
The wicked pop stylings of Frog Eyes shine from the very beginning with “Sound Travels From The Snow To The Dark,” the album’s exceptional opener. Here we get a taste of Mercer’s vocals, those achingly-beautiful vocals. One of the album’s strongest assets is that golden voice of his. My best attempt to describe the vocals is this: imagine a cabaret singer that just got some terrible news, bawled his eyes out in the bathroom stall, gets a stern reprimanding from the pub owner saying that he still has to finish his set, and is now directing his frustrations out on the crowd. Actually, that analogy works in more ways than one, because it also describes how I feel about the lyrics on The Bloody Hand. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe those stricken with grief are incapable of writing beautiful phrases. But from my experience, a broken heart doesn’t weave poetry that quickly. Mercer here is the missing link between incomprehensible blubbering and post-traumatic poetry. He stutters, he mumbles, he pens lyrics with a shaky hand. They might not make too much sense to us listeners, but they probably mean the world to the poor writer. The lyrics range from endlessly inquisitive (“The Horse Used To Wear A Crown”) to the ramblings of a deranged pyromaniac (“Krull Fire Wedding”).
From the way I’ve been prattling on and on about Carey Mercer’s vox and lyrical chops, you may assume that the rest of the band is merely there to get a few notes in and be done with it. However, that could not be farther from the truth. While I do think Mercer is The Bloody Hand’s most valuable player, any sports fan can tell you that the whole team needs to be up to snuff for it to mean anything. “The Fruit That Fell From The Tree” would not be as effective as it is were it not for Krug’s twinkling keys, nor would “Silence But for the Gentle Tinkling of the Flowing Creek” be the same without the clanking percussion, courtesy of Frog Eyes’ only other consistent member Melanie Campbell. And lest we forget Michael Rak, who also played bass with Mercer as a part of Blue Pine. His bass playing is subdued, but oh so essential to bringing a cohesiveness to what on the surface would seem to be a discordant flurry.
As far as the production goes, The Bloody Hand sports a full-bodied sound, without sacrificing its lo-fi appeal. Some may say that it doesn’t go far enough in whichever direction, but for me, it blends the melodic and the dissonant into a near-perfect blend. I say ‘near-perfect’ because I can agree that there are parts where the production does get in the way a bit. The aforementioned “The Fruit That Fell From The Tree” and “Libertatia's National Lullaby” don’t exactly sport the fine-tuned blend most of the other tracks do. Fans of noise would be more comfortable with it, but it’s understandably not for everyone.
I’m sure many of us remember the dreaded indie fatigue the 2000s bestowed upon us, with hundreds of upstart bands getting signed to major labels in the hopes that the money would come rolling on in. It started off well, but it quickly became over-saturated to the point where you couldn’t tell bands apart. Sadly, genuine articles like Frog Eyes tended to get lost in the shuffle, hidden beneath the shadow of the “indie rock” umbrella. However, I think enough time has passed between the listening public and Frog Eyes’ The Bloody Hand that we can revisit it with fresh ears. And if not, at least I can say I tried.