Psychedelic art-rockers Frogbelly & Symphony are the kind of band you want to catch on the way up. They’re like a vintage Jaguar: when they’re firing on all twelve cylinders, their elegant power can be breathtaking, a force to be reckoned with. When those cylinders aren’t all firing in sync, things can get messy. Their latest album Blue Bright Ow Sleep – streaming at Spotify – leaves no doubt as to the band’s ambition and talent. They’re playing Rock Shop on May 12 at around 10:30 PM; cover is $10
The album opens aptly with Minderbinder:
A chance to rebuild
Destruction brings us closer…
All we have is nothing,
But we turn it into something….
announces frontwoman/violinist Liz Hanley in her big, dramatic wail – the song sounds like Siouxsie fronting the Mars Volta. Then Hanley launches into a litany of funny food metaphors, like a hip-hop version of REM’s It’s the End of the World As We Know It. All this and orchestral flourishes in less than five minutes.
The calm jangle and propulsive drive of Invite to Eternity masks its darkly pensive surrealism; the soaring violin gives it a bite that reminds of another first-rate, kinetic female-fronted art-rock band, the Sometime Boys.
Hanley’s uneasy operatics soar over Ben Trott’s eerie guitar flickers as Ride Off Into the Sunset gets underway: With its mythic imagery, Romany guitar chromatics and keening theremin in the background, it’s akin to Humanwine on blotter acid, or the late, great Norden Bombsight. Which comes as no surprise considering that ex-Norden Bombsight guitarist David Marshall is a frequent collaborator.
Patch of Blue builds out of drummer Ray Rizzo’s Frankenstein sway with sinister layers of vocals into straight-up metal, winding down as bassist Tom Hanley delivers a troubled ending:
Firing a pulley
From the cannons of a knee
It is your moment of clarity
Shackled to a tree
Cola in Mongolia switches to an ambling, jangly Velvets pulse with circus rock theatrics, a subtly snide critique of consumerism. Leyla’s Find has tricky syncopation and looping, aphoristic lyrics: a snarlingly psychedelic rock take on Nina Simone, maybe. The seafaring metaphors of Shingle build an eerie eco-disaster narrative as the band reverts to jaunty, violin-fueled art-rock. It’s a genuinely brilliant song, a smoldering example of how much promise this band has.
The frontwoman’s cynical, doomed hip-hop-tinged lyrics contrast with the slow, dreamy atmospherics of Organism. The album’s big desperate coda is Hazyland, a duet between the Hanleys, which sounds like a more concise Brian Jonestown Massacre. This is the kind of band that ought to be in front of a big festival crowd, delivering their epic cautionary tales to an audience that gets them.