A confused stereophonic rush envelops the frenetic cries of Carey Mercer’s grim poetry on Frog Eyes’ fourth album, reeling comfortably into an indie scene which has already been prepared by experimenters like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Pterodactyl for the aurally assaulting—and the emotionally explosive.
What makes the dark prophecies on Tears of the Valedictorian original, aside from their peculiar fixation on grain and babies, is their presentation. Breathlessly whispered like an ancient secret, urgently stuttered like an apocalyptic admonition, even sung with a bit of operatic David Bowie and delicate David Gilmour present, they are the focus that makes this album significant. An example: in “Bushels,” Mercer shouts, “London is cold, but the wheat wheat wheat’s got to last!” as Spencer Krug’s keyboard and Melanie Campbell’s drums tornado into focused madness, when he suddenly breaks into a wordless, native-style chant. The instruments, catching on, join in merrily as they all sob together, “I was a singer!” This singer has less to cry about than he suspects.
The lengths of the songs are also startling—it takes daring to set the second track of a record at over seven and a half minutes, and perhaps more to extend the penultimate to about nine. But Frog Eyes never loses your attention. Their music has an unmistakable vitality that is both melancholy and laughing. And when Mercer is hissing “I am going to pay you a hundred dollars, you are going to stay away from the rope,” your ears subconsciously inch to the edge of their seat, wondering what else the band has up their tear-stained sleeves. And your ears are rarely disappointed. From the first taste of turbulence on “Idle Songs” to the pristine “My Boats They Go” (which barely reaches a minute in length), Tears of the Valedictorian feels like your first roller coaster: the breakneck speed and upside-down tricks may dizzy your mind, but they are what make you want to ride again and again. - Dorit Finkel