Frog Eyes- Pickpocket’s Locket (ALBUM REVIEW)

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Carey Mercer, the mastermind behind Frog Eyes, took a fiercely independent route in crafting the material that has become Pickpocket’s Locket, his latest and perhaps most straightforward album. Armed with only the acoustic guitar bequeathed to him in his father’s will, Mercer challenged himself to write ten songs completely alone on that acoustic, free from any outside human critique or computer aided assistance that he had grown accustomed to recording alongside. This sort of musical Olympics seems as if it may often result in confusion and half-formed compositions that may be shelved for the trash bin, or at the very least, unplanned future endeavors. However, in the hands of a competent craftsman like Mercer, what has resulted instead is a ten-track collection of heart-on-the-sleeve ruminations and urgent declarations. Full of intensity and rollicking instrumentation, it’s not the confessional coffeehouse blues that one may expect given the circumstances of its genesis. Instead, it’s a whirlwind affair centered on often incomprehensible subject matter that nevertheless, due to Mercer’s heartfelt and commanding vocal delivery, becomes compelling regardless of whether one can follow the narrative.

What also holds this album together are the contributions of Mercer’s cohorts in Frog Eyes. While conceived and written exclusively alone, Mercer took his compositions back to his band -wife and drummer Melanie Campbell, friend and pianist Shyla Seller, and bassist Terri Upton- to help turn the songs into more completely realized forms. Adding to the mix are the string contributions of longtime cohort Spencer Krug and Jesse Zubot, and pedal steel guitar flourishes courtesy of Paul Rigby. While coming together as an ensemble, these songs reach a zenith; it’s at times heavenly music that begs for performance in hallowed chamber music halls or sacred cathedral spaces. Songs like “Joe With the Jam” and “Death’s Ship” are even delivered with the fervor of an Old Testament preacher ringing a sermon out to the attentive ears of a congregation.

Elsewhere, as on “In a Hut” and “Crystal Blip”, Mercer’s vocals and the accompanying musicianship echo the soulful approach of a Southern Baptist or Pentecostal church, all groovy rhythm and maniacal fever. The thematic content may not match the religiosity of Sunday service, but the performance carries a similar weight of Spirit. It’s quite obviously music made with a locked-in, rapturous intent. Certainly not for the faint of heart, Pickpocket’s Locket is the type of album that testifies with a purpose, commanding the listener to sit up and pay attention.

Mercer isn’t the only one making music of this sort. One can find similar strains listening to acts like Lambchop, The Baptist Generals, and Krug’s late, great Wolf Parade. What seems to set this album apart though, is the simple intensity funneled through the creation of its’ content. It’s an album born out of tragic circumstances and a single-minded determination to create a unique work of art. It’s not always easy listening, but it certainly works as evidence of honest craftsmanship. Mercer and the rest of Frog Eyes have succeeded in accepting and mastering the challenge initially set forth.

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