[Album Review] Frog Eyes- Pickpocket's Locket
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Release Date: August 28th, 2015
Label: Paper Bag Records

Although they were never exactly experimental, Frog Eyes always liked to challenge the listener with their odd song arrangements and Carey Mercer’s manic vocal performances. In more recent years the band has toned things down considerably (and pared things down too, with only Mercer and drummer Melanie Campbell remaining as permanent members). So now the song structures are more conventional and the music is not so tasking to follow. But Mercer remains as compelling as he ever was, as is well demonstrated on Frog Eyes’ latest record ‘Pickpocket’s Locket’

His singing style no longer swoops erratically from screeching to low moaning and everywhere in between. Mercer has now settled into a fairly consistent style – a kind of glam rock storyteller. From a vocal standpoint, ‘Pickpocket’s Locket’ could be described as Ziggy-era Bowie covering Abattoir Blues-era Nick Cave. From a musical standpoint, these ten songs could be described as americana, although Mercer veers more towards Tom Waits than Springsteen.

There is an earnest purity in the lyrics and vocal delivery that probably stems from the fact that Mercer wrote all ten songs alone on his late father’s acoustic guitar (left to him in the will), before any interference from other band members. In this way, the words remain the focal point with the band only providing mood, albeit with admirable technical prowess. This role of mood-setting shouldn’t be glossed over, however. The strings, in particular, play an important role. All of these parts were written by former member Spencer Krug (Moonface) and performed by the ubiquitous Jesse Zubot, whose violin brings bluegrass to “In a Hut”, a sense of playfulness to “Crystal Blip”, painful mourning to “I Ain’t Around Much”, and dignified gravitas to “Rip Down the Fence That Fences The Garden”.

Although performed in a rootsy, rural style (there is a lot of pedal steel), the songs are urban in nature, dealing with art, literature, religion and social ills (such as his father’s drug addiction). ‘Pickpocket’s Locket’ places Mercer in that realm of urban balladeer occupied by the likes of the aforementioned Cave, Waits and Springsteen. There are times when you almost wish he’d break out a little and takes us to unconventional places the way he used to. The feeling’s fleeting – you get over it.