Three years in the making, Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph marks Frog Eyes’ thunderous, frantic, fiery return. This is a slow-brewed masterpiece that is unmistakably Frog Eyes, a new album that was very much worth the wait. On this point we feel unassailable: Frog Eyes keeps getting better and better.
This is an album with weight. It’s wrapped in a gauze of fuzz, but a fuzz that’s neither yesteryear nor painfully now. Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph is neither overly modern nor awkwardly vintage, and it contains a depth and bombast that’s not only noticeably absent in Frog Eyes’ previous work, it’s absent from most contemporary music.
Frog Eyes are equally informed by Scott Walker and Roxy Music, Nuggets collections and the Everly Brothers. But in truth, Frog Eyes’ recordings sound like nothing else but Frog Eyes. In the past the band has lived in a no-man’s-land reserved for musical anomalies, making music championed by discerning critics and discerning artists (fans of Mercer’s songwriting have included, at one time or another, John Darnielle, Spencer Krug, Dan Bejar, Jonathan Meiburg, and Carl Newman, to name a few). With due respect to the above, the scope and vision of Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph is triumphant because it busts so thoroughly out of the ghetto of the clever.
It gets there, in part, because all of the basic tracks on Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph, including many of the vocals, were recorded live off the floor, and this approach has captured a rawness, a punk rock spirit too often smothered by Pro Tools. Singer/guitarist Carey Mercer’s instantly recognizable howl is ever-present, soaring above the frenetic beats of drummer Melanie Campbell. Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph is in the canon of “two-guitar” records: the majestic shredding between Mercer and Ryan Beattie recalls everything from Neil Young/Danny Whitten’s work on early Young recordings to Tom Verlaine and even, occasionally, Hendrix. The synths weave in and out of this buzzing wall of sound, and new Frog Eyes member Megan Boddy’s sweet backing vocals are a kind foil for Mercer’s wail. Mercer’s lyrics are a continuing refinement of warnings and prophecies, threats and terrors, and what he calls “contrapuntal sharp blasts of hope.” As Carl Wilson of Pitchfork put it in his [glowing] review of their 2007 album Tears of the Valedictorian, “[Frontman Carey] Mercer stands in the lineage of rock frontman as half-carnival-barker, half-gnostic-preacher that Greil Marcus describes as the ‘crank prophet,’ from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins through Arthur Lee of Love, Captain Beefheart, David Thomas of Pere Ubu, Tom Waits, and the Pixies’ Frank Black.” Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph is Mercer–and Frog Eyes–at their most powerful and self-assured.