There aren’t too many albums released in recent years where you know before the first song is over that you’re in the hands of very confident, capable musicians who have set a very high bar of quality for themselves that they must now maintain or exceed for the next three quarters of an hour. Frog Eyes’ latest record Pickpocket’s Locket, however, happens to be one of these rare records. By the time you’re just over one minute into “Two Girls (One for Heaven and the Other One for Rome)”, a polite saxophone drops into the mix, singer Carey Mercer begins to repeatedly croon, “It’s a rich man’s world, and I’m a poor, poor man” each time more impassioned than the time previous, and you realize you’re in for more than just a collection of songs, you realize you’re in for an extraordinary experience.
Canada’s Frog Eyes have been making music for just under a decade and a half. Led by singer/guitarist Carey Mercer (at this point, the band’s only consistent member), Frog Eyes’ current lineup includes the aforementioned Mercer, his wife, Melanie Campbell on drums, pianist Shyla Seller, and bassist Terri Upton. In addition to the music provided by this core four, the majority of tracks on Pickpocket’s Locket feature gorgeous strings arranged by Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade), a few of which also include a sparingly used pedal steel guitar and saxophone.
Each song on Pickpocket’s Locket is delivered with passion and heart. The uniqueness of Mercer’s vocal delivery, and often cryptically poetic lyrics, combined with each lushly arranged, atypical yet accessible musical score creates a timelessness cemented by occasional lo-fi room hiss and audible acoustic noodling in between tracks that, whether intended or not, makes the listener feel like they’re witnessing the creation of something private and extremely personal. Much like the invisible hand of a pickpocket, Frog Eyes manage to gently hold their audience without the listener ever knowing they’re being hypnotically swayed in the palm of a veteran group’s uncommon chemistry.
Frog Eyes infuse each track with its own particular personality while maintaining a similar, thoughtfully eccentric feeling from one song to the next. “Rejoinders in a Storm”, which utilizes a playfully dark electric piano that sounds inspired by The Make-Up’s “Little Black Book”, turns optimistic halfway-in before reverting to its sinister origins. “In a Hut” starts with a bold a cappella opening before adding strings, percussion, and piano, building until Carey Mercer rapturously repeats “you’re really just stuck in the phantom of a period of time”. “Crystal Blip” is reminiscent of Aladdin Sane’s “Drive-In Saturday” without feeling derivative or intentionally retro the way the Bowie song did.
The penultimate ballad “I Ain’t Around Much” builds and swells, ending with fuzzed-out guitar hiss and distortion. This in itself would have made for an acceptable album ender if not for Pickpocket’s Locket’s actual finale “Rip Down the Fences That Fence the Garden” that has the band in encore mode with Mercer squeezing every last ounce of dynamic emotion out of his idiosyncratic singing style.
Pickpocket’s Locket is a truly remarkable artistic achievement. Within the pantheon of seasoned indie rock acts who too frequently become content in making what may as well be the same album over and over, Frog Eyes have distinguished themselves by taking chances creatively and succeeding in creating one of the most beautiful and original sounding indie rock albums you’ll hear this year.