Tears of the Valedictorian
is the fourth official full-length album from the Victoria, BC band Frog Eyes
. As Tears takes flight, it's clear the album is something wholly other. There is space on this record, real dynamic development, especially heard on the two tracks that make up its centerpiece: the twin epics "Caravan Breakers" and "Bushels," (the latter is Frog Eyes at its finest hour). Tears follows The Folded Palm, an abrasive and fragmented work whose dark shards brought an end to an unnamed trilogy of records (The Bloody Hand, The Golden River and The Folded Palm). Tears of the Valedictorianis counterpoint from this abrasiveness, so hot at its center that it seems immune to decay. Here, the record label speaks of catechism while the band is speculatively content with, even grateful for, longevity.
On the surface, Carey Mercer's lyrics hold an extremely bleak world view - in every song we find profession gone wrong: an ambassador blown apart, a cold lieutenant searching for the remains of his father, a general who has lost his daughter to the dawn, a peddler who awakes in the most desolate stretch of night only to fret over his wares.
And catastrophe, so much catastrophe: the planes blow the boats from the isles, the wheat is failing so therefore has to last, May has been exiled and Patriarchs are sent off into the Bering sea on ice chunks.
We cannot, however, hear this Voice as that of the mythical Cassandra, prophesizing doom wholesale lest we turn back at this most grave moment. Mercer has always been on about this shit: crops failing, villages falling apart, things generally falling apart. And hear his line in "Eagle Energy", both whispered and shouted directly after "The Tempest within us / is the Tempest without us": "We won't be discarded!" It is as much a rallying cry, an "UP WITH PEOPLE" as we can hope to hear, but it is enough to help us through the work, and hear it more as a confession of our collective neurosis rather than a holier than thou damnation of a world in distress. We have always been fucked up. We will always bring the tempest.
So, with Frog Eyes you have the unusual combination of a lyricist / front man whose influences are as much early Russian and Irish literature as, you know, "Cinnamon Girl", "Virginia Plain" or Thurston's screech, all laced over this incredibly intuitive and connected music. This is wholly due to the band Mercer has assembled around him - his wife Melanie Campbell has developed a drumming style that supplants or at least challenges that voice as the primary mover and shaker. Michael Rak's bass playing is steady and precise and it's certain he's studied the great Peter Hook. Spencer Krug's keyboards are an unholy marvel, at once the flock of baroque birds chirping, and at other points the boom and groan of piano earthquake. Mccloud Zicmuse compliments Mercer's guitar, looping melodic blips and squiggles over the cyclone thrash.
Of course, there's the voice, Mercer's voice, almost channeled, frightening and maybe a little frightened, defiantly soulful and impossibly bleak, a hundred thousand years old, a hundred thousand hailstorms, a hundred thousand old photographs, a hundred thou- sandth of a second from epiphany. It shakes, he shakes, you shake.
When you hear all of this swirling around you, you have to ask yourself if any other band in the world could have made this record. It is strong and it is soft; ugly and beautiful at the same time, raw and unadorned and yet indirect, abstract and almost im- penetrable in its labyrinths.
Our feeling is, of course, that Frog Eyes is entirely unique, a blessed aberration that refuses to fade away, and that Tears of The Valedictorianmight be the jewel in their crown.