Make no mistake: Victoria, B.C. based band Frog Eyes aren't the amphibious offshoots of cacophonous rabble-rousers Wolf Eyes. If anything, these 'Eyes' are a whole different breed of animal. On The Folded Palm, the group's first for Absolutely Kosher and third overall, Frog Eyes fuse a unique sound encompassing lush, bittersweet organ melodies, reverb-heavy guitars, the freewheeling antics of a wild-eyed, psychotic vocalist (think Gary Wilson if he really went over the edge) and a deranged cabaret, almost carnival-esque stylistic imprint suggestive of Tom Waits.
For the first half or so, The Folded Palm often recalls going a few rounds with a street junkie fighting for a pastrami sandwich; each track manages to one-up the last, each track manages to one-up the last, coming at you like multiple K.O. punches to the jugular. The opening two tracks, "The Fence Feels Its Post" and "The Akhian Press," act as bold mission statements from a band with something commanding to say and set the tempo for the rest of the album. "I Like Dot Dot Dot" rocks like a garage band headed by kids from the short bus while "Important Signals Will Break The Darkness" is a lovely ballad that kind of evokes a less morose Nick Cave.
But it's "The Oscillator's Hum" that truly comprises everything that makes Frog Eyes so incredible. Singer Casey Mercer's spastic vocals veer in and out of a contagious hook, supported by a dominant piano progression and an economical but no less driving rhythm section, which keeps things from falling too far by the wayside. As Mercer sings the mostly unintelligible chorus (I can make out "The oscillator hums when the pastor preacher strums and I hit a wooden drum") the tension escalates beneath him like the oscillator he's singing about is on the verge of bursting. By the end of the song's swift two minutes and 28 seconds, eerie synth lines, feedback-induced guitar, and at least two key changes have gone by. The result embodies the Frog Eyes aesthetic perfectly: a song that bowls listeners over with its manic intensity, but also one that will keep them coming back to catch what they missed in the frenzy.
After the splendid glory of "The Oscillator's Hum," the record starts to lose its pace a bit, unfortunately. It's true that the last third of the record drags a little and ends up keeping The Folded Palm from soaring to truly magnificent heights (save "Russian Berries But You're Quiet Tonight", the triumphant closing track that sounds like the end of a Christmas movie featuring Pere Ubu as the backing band), you simply cannot deny the power of the Frog Eyes sound. It's a sound that can shake you out of that stupor inflicted by so much bland, faceless indie rock. It's a sound that can take you to a strange, piebald world - one I'd much rather be visiting now than avoiding a Medieval Art History exam. The Folded Palm is a fine record from a band I hope to be hearing more from in the future.