With a band name as quirky as “Frog Eyes”, it’s unsurprising that Pickpocket’s Locket is a winding, exploratory and sometimes baffling collection of songs. It’s been nearly two years since the Canadian quartet released new work, but last month saw their forthcoming album’s first single, Joe With The Jam, premiered on Pitchfork, with the rest of the release coming this Friday via Paper Bag Records.
Sometimes bold, sometimes timid, this folk-orientated offering is one to intrigue even the least easily phased, building above and beyond the basics of the genre; as frontman Carey Mercer says, “an acoustic guitar is still, in 2015, a very effective way of transmitting one’s song. I made a deal with myself: write ten songs, write all the words before anyone gets to hear any of the songs, memorize the songs so that I become the hard-drive that the acoustic guitar accesses.”
Though the album blooms into a powerful work, it doesn’t commence with the impact I’d hoped for; in fact, opening Two Girls (One For Heaven and the Other One For Rome) is somewhat underwhelming. As the record develops the instrumentation becomes a carefully mastered delicacy, but here it scarcely meshes, somehow coming to even less than a sum of its parts, stunted and brittle even in its most promising moments. Fortunately Joe With The Jam compensates for this with four and a half minutes’ of staccato urgency over tentative percussion, showing just how much they’re capable of.
After these two extremes things settle a little, with lengthily titled The Beat Is Down (Four Wretched Singers Beyond Any World That You Have Known) finally seeing a better better in the music, this string-dominant music bringing in a splash of variation. What didn’t work in the opening is polished off and executed better in Death’s Ship, with the sparse and irregular backing flowing tighter, whilst Mercer shows off the dexterity in his vocal work, an addling but intriguing spectacle that hereon becomes the main focal point of the album.
Whilst the previous tracks has been rather light and inclined to follow whims, The Demon Runner unsurprisingly takes a turn for the dark, plunging to an almost doom-folk sound – one of the few cross genre terms I don’t know to have been coined yet, and it’s not as grim as you might think. Elsewhere, a haunting sound picks up in Rejoinders In The Storm, with an Irish-folk twist playing into the closing instrumental, a slant that’s used again in the bold-vocal storytelling beginning of In A Hut.
Crystal Blip and I Ain’t Around Much unfortunately slip into the forgettable world of album fillers, less attention grabbing albeit more accessible for those off put by the abrupt and jarring manner of the previous tracks. Final Rip Down The Fences That Fence The Garden sees a new minimalist-rock feel thrown into the works, and whilst it stands out obtusely against the quainter instrumental, it highlights how much variation the four-piece have crammed into a mere ten tracks.
Despite having eleven releases behind them, Frog Eyes have proven that they still have the ability to produce eclectic and off-the-beaten-track work that old fans will find as enticing as ever.
You can stream Joe With The Jam below.