Frog Eyes with Rocket Face and the Lost Cause at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Monday (September 27). $8. 416-598-4753, www.horseshoetavern.com. Rating: NNNNN
Everyone's talking about Frog Eyes frontman Carey Mercer's intellectualism. Sycophantic article after article trumpets the fact that the BC native has read Homer and can quote Dostoevsky, as though these things were indicative of some unimpeachable poetic cred. You'd think Mercer's fellow Canadian musicians were scratching out their lyrics in the dirt with their hooves.
"Yeah, I hate that," says Mercer when I point this out. He's lying in his van in Edmonton, talking to me on the phone while his wife and bandmate, Melanie Campbell, is off buying him underwear at an army surplus store. He's worried that they'll be woolly.
"Yesterday, when we got here, the band was just killing themselves because every headline was like, Brainy Guy Comes To Town!
"I can imagine people wondering if they're going to a concert or a fucking seminar. A lot has been made of that, but it's so secondary and has nothing to do with the actual visceral [boy, do Canadian indie musicians love the word "visceral"] experience. Maybe it's something to latch onto."
Then again, maybe he brings it on himself by singing about books. Of course, his lyrics are gonna get labelled with words like "cerebral" and be compared with the work of folks like James Joyce and Ezra Pound.
"You might feel a slight pedantic satisfaction if you think, 'Oh, Ship Destroyer - that's what Helen of Troy was called,' but if you don't pick up on that, it shouldn't lessen the enjoyment. I mean, assuming you enjoy the song."
Musically, Frog Eyes' third album is demented cabaret, a carnivalesque, dissonant cacophony, and extremely Canadian in its quirkiness. They manage to make a lot of noise with their bass, drums, guitar and keys.
Mercer wails, heaves and sometimes sighs like a male version of Björk in need of Ritalin; reports are that live he's a force to be reckoned with. For all the to-do about his lyrics, they're barely even decipherable.
The album was approached as a whole rather than as a collection of songs.
"Some people write short stories and you can read them by themselves, but I think it's important to have the rest of the narrative. Why wouldn't you try to make your whole record as consistent as possible?"
But even though he's been compared to Captain Beefheart in the past, Mercer shies away from the idea that The Folded Palm might be a concept album.
"Doesn't the analogue that I use negate that?"
"Is saying I want the album to be listened to as a whole really a concept?"
Well, yeah. But I get it. The concept album has a reputation for being pretentious. But isn't being afraid of appearing pretentious kind of pretentious?
"I don't even know what pretentious means any more. It's so vague, and it's so commonly thrust on different things. I mean, if you have someone who's used to loftier ideas.... Listen to me. I just said 'loftier.' It's so easy to trap yourself. It's so tiring.
"Whatever you do, you always wind up a cliché."