Posted on August 28th, 2015 (11:00 am) by Matt LaBarbera

Fabulist Carey Mercer has a knack for the paracosmic. The minor mythologies, geographies, and dramatis personae Carey - along with the rest of his Canadian coterie Dan Bejar and Spencer Krug - conjures up have a surprising palpability given their pop song lifespans. The characters, signified either by their first name or, more romantically, their position, are thrust along these fractured fables by hysteric poetry delivered in mantic babbling. Coming off of the release of Carey’s Cold Spring, an album shadowed by the death of his father and his own diagnosis with throat cancer during its final stages, Mercer sets the Frog Eyes name to action again with Pickpocket’s Locket, an exquisite entry into his catalog of intelligent, arty rock.

Despite largely being composed on his father’s old Martin D-18, there’s no raw sentimentality to Pickpocket’s Locket. His poetic proficiency unmarred, the lyrics are a profusion of imagery, stark and defamiliarized. There’s a huge temptation to dig into whatever personal details the music might illuminate, an awkward archaeology of his past experience made public, but the sheer fluency of the songs quash such an impulse. Take the opener “Two Girls (One for Heaven and for Rome),” a song that could easily be mined for autobiographical ore given the rich symbolism—Rome, heaven, a bishop, the master smoking in his bed, the stable-hand murdered—instead resists it by the fascination it inspires. It is fairytale, it is parable, and even at his most bare, Mercer deals in enchantment.

His vocal delivery, sometimes measured but often manic, is just as artfully deployed as his imagery. The strangeness of his wandering inflection shifts foci, casting the plain aspects of his lyricism into a startling new perspective. The curious dip as he sings the album’s title on “Joe with a Jam” pulls the listener through the Krug-arranged strings. These minor details make all the difference in a production such as this, lending a sense of careful construction, even if the words and conveyance themselves hint towards the unhinged.

The depth and delivery of his lyrics are by far the strongest part of Pickpocket’s Locket, but that doesn’t mean the arrangements were left to suffer. They’re perfectly balanced, arty pop songs. The aforementioned strings feature prominently adding some baroque curlicues to the edges of some songs and driving the action of others. The production is loose, giving most of the instruments plenty of space to breathe and decent real estate in the mix. “The Demon Runner” is one such example of this idyllic communal harmony of elements, wherein each hi-hat and bass pulse sit at the same table as Mercer and the strings.

The real opus of the album is the closing track, “Rip Down the Fences that Fence in the Garden.” The melding of the faux-organ keyboard, the slow and steady percussion, and strings—moving from sweet and lilting to gospel-inspired wail—lend the track a strange religious demeanor. Coupled with Mercer’s lyrics and voice, there’s a revelation here, a complete understanding as he cries, “Because it’s water, sweet fucking water, that makes you feel!” Conviction in word is meaningless without conviction in character and in ripping down the fences he sets the stage for such an exclamation.

Perhaps the greatest failing of Pickpocket’s Locket is that it says too much and leaves too little to be said about it. It is a text that is not passive in its reading. It is declamatory and insistent. The stories it tells through Mercer and company are the only ones it’s interested in telling. A world all its own, comfortably stationed outside of the pretenses others would wish to ascribe to it.

If this review seems tepid or superficial or otherwise failing, that’s because it is. The critical apparatus is inherently a destructive one. If one were to scan every nook and cranny of a three-dimensional body, the probe would necessarily damage the structure of the very thing it seeks to capture. There is a reluctance to subject Pickpocket’s Locket to such a treatment because the exuberance and vibrancy and vitality of what lies therein is to be treasured. No, this is not an earth-shattering record nor is it some sonic panacea to our ills, but it is unpretentious and honest, it is fantastic and affirming, and it is a clarity of vision and execution. Pickpocket’s Locket is an utter delight that desires to be heard, not talked about - experienced, not simulated.

Track List:

  1. Two Girls (One for Heaven and for Rome)
  2. Joe with the Jam
  3. The Beat is Down (Four Wretched Singers Beyond any World You Have Known)
  4. Death's Ship
  5. The Demon Runner
  6. Rejoinders in a Storm
  7. In a Hut
  8. Crystal Blip
  9. I Ain't Around Much
  10. Rip Down the Fences that Fence in the Garden
Frog Eyes - Pickpocket's Locket Review
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

80 / 100
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