Release Date: Aug 28, 2015
Record label: Paper Bag Inc
Pickpocket’s Locket might just be the best Frog Eyes album yet. Some might not consider it to be, especially coming after Paul’s Tomb: a Triumph and Carey’s Cold Spring, two fully developed, excellent records. However, I still feel I can say it without feeling dishonest. But I want to speak about differences, because stylistic and thematic changes from album to album seem to go against the nature of a band like Frog Eyes.
Over the past few years, Carey Mercer (aka Frog Eyes) has had no problem coming up with lyrical fodder. After contracting cancer before the release of 2013's Carey's Cold Spring, Mercer experienced the death of his father. Picking up the acoustic guitar his dad left him in his will, Carey wrote the ten tracks that would make up Pickpocket's Locket without help from a computer.
In May of 1974, German performance artist Joseph Beuys spent the better part of three days corralled in New York’s Rene Block Gallery with a wild coyote as part of a piece called “I Like America and America Likes Me”. The footage that exists of their interactions depicts the pair engaged in a precarious dance, in which the animal negotiates their shared space with a mixture of curiosity and fear. The tension in their proximity imbues the piece with a crucial sense of vitality — danger constantly underpins the close coexistence of man and the beasts he cannot understand.
Personal narratives surrounding Frog Eyes’ 2013 album, Carey’s Cold Spring, got as much play as the music itself. Leader Carey Mercer’s father died around the completion of the record, and then the songwriter was diagnosed with and treated for throat cancer immediately after it was finished, causing a self-release of the album and a postponed tour. Mercer maintained that Carey’s Cold Spring was not about his father’s death or his own diagnosis, but the three most notable Frog Eyes releases — 2010’s Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph, Carey’s Cold Spring, and now Pickpocket’s Locket — are each conceptually different and loaded with affecting content.
In another time and place, Carey Mercer might well have been writing operas, which would certainly agree with his knack for chaotic narratives and his clear fondness for melodramatic vocals. In North America in the 21st century, Mercer makes do as the leader of an indie rock band, Frog Eyes, but his willingness to bare his soul for the benefit of the folks in the upper balcony is on prominent display on the eighth album from Frog Eyes, 2015's Pickpocket's Locket. This set debuts a new edition of the band, with Mercer's voice and guitar joined by Shyla Seller on keyboards, Terri Upton on bass, and the group's longtime drummer Melanie Campbell, and though this lineup is as dynamic and forceful as ever, electric guitars are largely absent from the arrangements as acoustic instruments dominate the surroundings, and the quieter attack, with strings and saxophones adding color and texture on several songs, only fuels Mercer's sense of drama.
The past three years have brought a great deal of grief and uncertainty into Carey Mercer's life and music, but these days, the singer and songwriter's demeanor possesses a kind of aloof geniality. In concert, he seems just as content to talk and joke as play, like a charismatic acquaintance regaling you with stories at slightly uncomfortable length. In the muted and gently loping songs on his band Frog Eyes' latest LP, Pickpocket's Locket, too, Mercer playfully mulls over a couple of musical ideas rather than pushing past them quickly or distending them quickly into cracked-mirror reflections of themselves.
For nearly twenty years, Carey Mercer has been penning records under his banner of surrealist romanticism. Whether it's through his main vices Frog Eyes and Blackout Beach, or his two-album collaboration with Spencer Krug (Moonface, Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown) and Dan Bejar (Destroyer, The New Pornographers), the weight and presence felt when Mercer is involved with an album is like none other. He is to alternative music what Beat Takashi is to alternative cinema: it doesn't matter how, if he's involved with a project it becomes dominated and defined by the covertly complex, often-baffling laws of his world.
Frog Eyes — Pickpocket’s Locket (Paper Bag)Frog Eyes’ Carey Mercer emerged as one of the aughts’ wildest, most ecstatic talents, channeling a feral, subconscious energy through lurid, animal-centered imagery and bone-chilling, eerie whelps and howls. He was an artist who seemed not so much to write as to plug into the cosmos, providing direct, electric access to unknowable energies. With Pickpocket’s Locket, however, Mercer emerged from personal crisis more full in control of the wave he’s been riding.