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Frog Eyes - The Bloody Hand

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Artist: Frog Eyes

Album: The Bloody Hand

Label: Absolutely Kosher

Review date: Sep. 10, 2006

Frog Eyes songs have always pitted chaos against structure. You've got the repetitive keyboard parts hammering out the boundaries, the block-solid drumming setting the scheme, the once upon a time song titles like "The Mayor Laments the Failures of His Many Townfolk" or "The Horse Used to Wear a Crown.” Then you've got Carey Mercer, wailing like a maniac in the foreground, upsetting everything. He's the great uncalculable all by himself, a vortex, a tornado that sucks everything pop and traditional about Frog Eyes into his maw and spits it out in pieces.

The Bloody Hand was Frog Eyes' first album, only spottily available since its 2002 release and now reissued to a wider audience by Absolutely Kosher. Most people who heard it got to the record after the later Golden River, so they were, in some sense, prepared for Carey Mercer's manic and supersaturated sound. It's still shocking, though, even now, when Frog Eyes hyper-dramatic, natural-imaged, derangedly intense pop songs morph into anguished howls. It is far darker and more dangerous than Golden River, a nightmarish but surreal world, where fragmentary lyrics pile onto one another in a continual stream, where climax after Gnostic climax takes you further from the ordinary world until you are completely cut off.

The album starts with the relatively accessible "Sound Travels from the Snow to the Dark," a tipsy song melody embellished with ritual pounding and the off-tuned clang of chimes. Mercer stays mostly in check for this song, his voice occasionally swelling into oversized Bowie-isms, but avoiding the shamanistic, animal-inhabiting trances of later songs. It's overdramatic, eccentric, but definitely a pop song, as is the following cut, "The Fox Speaks To His Wife, Who Is Not Quite Sure."

With "Krull Fire Wedding," however, we begin to slip the bonds of traditional songwriting. It's introduced by two slashes on the "dinger," the chime that Mercer and his wife found in someone's yard one day that turned out to be tuned between two Western notes. This bit of off-ness sets the stage for Mercer's frenzied howls and operatic flights; he seems to be channeling something here rather than just singing. From this point on, whether he is whispering, crooning or shrieking disjointedly, there's an air of unreality to Mercer's singing. It seeps into the still fairly rigorous arrangements, twisting them into strange, hallucinatory shapes, and it feels rather dangerous. When Mercer keens "Put your rock and roll hands in the god-damned burning sand" on the album-stopping "Silence But for the Gentle Tinkling of the Flowing Creek," there's a real agony there. Through metaphor, Mercer says that art is painful, that it carries real risk, and the struggle in his voice embodies the point.

The reissued Bloody Hand incorporates nine additional tracks, all from Frog Eyes' predecessor band Blue Pine's Seagull Is On the Rise. You can hear elements of Frog Eyes in the earlier material – the use of distortion, the mesmeric repetition, the beginnings of Mercer's insane cabaret singer style – but in a watered down, less compelling way. The tracks drag on listlessly. If you've ever wondered what Mercer would sound like when he's not in a trance state, this is probably it, and it's not very interesting.

By Jennifer Kelly

Other Reviews of Frog Eyes

The Golden River

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Find out more about Absolutely Kosher

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