It’s commonly understood that accessibility is what makes pop music pop music. There is more often than not a recognizable structure, hum-able rhythms, simple progressions. It’s palatable because it requires little effort from the listener. Most people, it seems, don’t want their music to be a workout.
The Folded Palm is not pop music and, as such, it does require a little exertion, you lazy fucks. It’s not easy to listen to, but in line with the risk-reward give and take, it’s beautiful if you try. The Victoria, British Columbia-born Frog Eyes is, simply, a four-piece rock band. Complexly, it is a haphazardly graceful juggernaut of noise and excitement that moves in and out of songs more so than it moves through them or with them. The Unfolded Palm, their third full-length, offers up more of the same quasi-maniacal, carnival-esque songs that fans have come to expect and love.
The beauty, if you’re okay with trying, comes from efforts like the racing opener, “The Fence Feels Its Post,” which manages to offer understated splendor in its progressions despite fleeting moments of high drama that punch you in the teeth. The track sets the tone for the rest of the album, a surging collection that’s at times raucous but soon whispered and always dramatic. The acrobatics never get frivolous: The standout “Ship Destroyer” rips through in under a minute and a half and leaves nothing undone. Similarly, closer “Russian Berries but You’re Quiet Tonight” does little to bring any resolution to this album; it whips about without ever really coming to any consensus on which way is up and without ever giving the listener a minute to breathe or be bored.
On the upside, feel better about putting in the effort, because it’s a two-way street. Vocalist Carey Mercer’s theatrics rise and fall all over the record, and the arrangements on The Folded Palm are even more subtly hectic and involved than previous outings. And then there are the lyrics: I don’t have the faintest idea what Mercer’s talking about, but I get the feeling he does, and that’s fine with me. It’s distinctly not nonsense for the sake of nonsense, that brand of purposeful vagueness that’s so transparent that it’s nauseating. It’s nonsense because I’m not Carey Mercer, which makes a lot more sense. If that makes sense.
The Folded Palm is a deliberately involved album, far from easy listening but easy to appreciate if you put in the time. There’s beauty in its intricacies and mood swings, and if you’re willing to listen with a critical ear, Frog Eyes provides the rewards.