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Frog Eyes - The Golden River

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Artist: Frog Eyes

Album: The Golden River

Label: Animal World / Global Symphonic

Review date: Sep. 29, 2003

Cabaret has been the critical categorization of choice for the Canadian band Frog Eyes. While surely more than just song and dance, the group has clearly mastered the art of creating a dramatic atmosphere during its live performances and on its first two recordings, the stunning debut The Bloody Hand and this year’s The Golden River.

The ties between Frog Eyes and cabaret are stronger than darkness and drama; while cabaret historically thrived in places like Weimar Germany as a form of social critique and political satire, containing and magnifying the fears and ills of a society, the dark cabaret performed by Frog Eyes seems to capture the anxiety of today's society. The Golden River feels like a record made for a period of turmoil, even war. By never naming a place or time and avoiding the specificity of current events, the record transcends the particular. And yet, while remaining enigmatic, it connects with the current mood of the time, when wars seem to be fought with both enemy and battleground in poor definition. In contrast with the characterization of the war on terror given by the American government, in which the fight is a clearly defined battle between good and evil, the war on The Golden River is ambiguous. "This is a war song," Mercer yelps during "Masticated Outboard Motors", but he never reveals the basis or adversary.

The record opens with a sharp intake of breath by vocalist Carey Mercer, a moment of high drama that both captures the listener's attention and reverberates through the rest of the disk. It's quickly evident that this cabaret is Mercer's show, and his breathy intonations and falsetto vocals are compelling. His voice is frequently more sound effect than straight vocal, as he explores the onomatopoeic possibilities of words like “cr-cr-cr-creaking.” He maintains an urgency and passion that just avoids straying into the unfortunate territory reserved for the over-emotional and under-thought. Instead of offering more of the same tired insights into the mind of the lovelorn and misunderstood, Mercer’s urgency and passion, along with Frog Eyes’ semi-comprehensible lyrics and grotesque album art, feel like a window into a baroque sensibility that is well worth examination.

While Mercer is obviously shoved to the front, the band remains cohesive – he never obnoxiously dominates the sound, and the songs are tight and well-constructed. Carolyn Mark, of Corn Sisters, provides backing vocals on three of the songs. In her most prominent role, on "A Latex Ice Age", she adds an element of depth and melancholy, as the band backs off a little from the intensity of earlier tracks to find an element of wistfulness or regret that has real emotional impact.

With The Golden River, Frog Eyes reveals more of the eerie mythology of the world they first created on The Bloody Hand. Mercer & Co. deserve praise for their ability to pull us into a world that is both idiosyncratically imagined and unsettlingly relevant.

By Emily Wanderer

Other Reviews of Frog Eyes

The Bloody Hand

Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph

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View all articles by Emily Wanderer

Find out more about Animal World / Global Symphonic

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