One way to approach the latest Frog Eyes album, another in a long line of perplexing, huge-sounding records from Carey Mercer and company, is to place it in the context of current music trends. Though recorded almost entirely live to tape, Mercer and Ryan Beattie's dual guitars are sharp, stabbing into rolling drums and the occasional singed synth in tracks that typically stretch into the six-minute mark. It's a far cry from fitting into the lo-fi resurgence, but even further from the hippest fad of them all, chillwave. In his SXSW recap last month, New York Times writer Jon Pareles knocked the sub-genre, describing it as "annoyingly noncommittal music, backing droopy vocals with impersonal sound&emdash;a hedged, hipster imitation of the pop [the artists] are not brash enough to make." One can assume that Mercer agrees: Paul's Tomb stands as an antithesis to everything Pareles bemoans.
First, there's his voice: He latches his defiantly off-putting howl onto every word, screwing with lyrical cadence and pronunciation because he can. When he says "glove" in opening track "A Flower in a Glove," it sounds like he could be saying "cub" or maybe "kid." When he snorts "bust 'em in the fucking knees" later in the album, it's no doubt unsettling but sung in such a theatrical way that he hardly seems to mean it, while the line "I kissed a girl" comes off as painful, if not threatening. Perhaps this hints at what Mercer is trying to achieve; not an impersonal sound, one that induces instant nostalgia, or that describes experiences, but one that gouges a jarring variety of emotion from both the song-writer and song-listener. Three years in the making, Paul's Tomb is crammed with moments of pop bliss, most notably in a swelling opening sequence and sporadic vocal harmonies with new member Megan Boddy, but blasts them to pieces before there's any chance to get comfortable. It's committal and brash, to the extreme.