Armored Frog is essentially Eugene, Oregon’s George Ayres and Jake Baker. It seems fitting that these two come from Oregon because this album definitely has all the feel of an overcast afternoon in the Pacific Northwest (coffee is credited four times with inspiring this album in the cd’s liner notes). This is the band’s first full-length in their five year existence, following 2004’s Ghost Cow EP, and it finds them adding instrumentalists and back-up vocalists, Molly Templeton, Elliot Hartlerode and Erin Cadigan to flesh out their sound.
If I had to proffer a (half-assed) point of reference, it would be like a cross between Deserter’s Songs Mercury Rev (minus the orchestral feel) and Grandaddy (sans the pop penchant). Similiar to the latter, they have a knack for a seamless meshing of organic and synthesized sounds, while the Mercury Rev comparison is moreso in the vocal style and feel. Bear in mind that I did say ‘half-assed point of reference’.
Lyrically, Ayres spends most of his time conjuring the depressing side of the human condition. The band’s Sleepsound bio humorously cites him for ‘pseudo-sensuality’. It’s really the tone and tempo of the music that gives you the ‘depressed’ vibe more than any hackneyed woe-is-me lyricism. A prime example would be the beautifully sad ‘Boxed Pete’, with it’s repetition of “wasting the whole day, waiting for it to rain. it’s raining on us again”. With that being said, it’s not all gloom and mope. Most of the slower tracks end up on higher notes than they began on, such as ‘Don’t Hold Your Breath’. The trumpet-led ‘Snake in the Grass’ finds the band at their catchiest best. That track and the slower ‘In a Boathouse at Noon’ stand out as the album’s defining statements. The closer ‘Two Hundred Cubits Later’ is definitely worth mentioning as well, with it’s fatally aware chant of “we’re all alike, we all die” coupled with an instrumental build-up to a satisfying crescendo.
After it’s all said and done, Weasel On A Weathervane stands as an album showcasing a modest band with some big ideas. In less capable hands, having too many ideas could ruin songs, but there’s never a moment here that sounds forced or disjointed. You get the feeling that nothing is ever incorporated (or removed) just for the sake of experimentation, and that crafting a great song is their main concern. At times you’ll hear something catchy like a melody, drum pattern, or synthesized sound that you’ll intrinsically latch onto, only to have it quickly dissipate. Believe me, it’s not a bad thing. It’s almost as if every element that you hear is a vital song component, but once it has served it’s purpose, it’s time to move on. I find myself appreciating the fact that they don’t feel compelled to beat you over the head repeatedly with each clever idea they can come up with. It’s because of their approach that, through repeated listens, the songs have a welcomed, familiar sound, rather than a tiresome one. Armored Frog have quietly made a highly enjoyable album, here’s to hoping that they aren’t flying under the radar for too much longer. This one deserves your attention.
-avant gardening 11/14/05