One of Canadian indie rock's most generous and outlandish songwriters, Carey Mercer has had a testing few years making records as Blackout Beach and Frog Eyes while battling illness and writing philosophical essays about fatality. His last record, Carey's Cold Spring, was at turns an inspiring and frightening listen, focused as every Frog Eyes record is around trembling guitar tones and that unleashed vocal yelp. Its follow-up, Pickpocket's Locket, is a light rock opera tributing Mercer's father, whose old acoustic guitar he used as a primary writing tool.
8/10 Robin Staff review, 27 August 2015
Carey Mercer sounds furious, but his music is meditation. With its bold, endlessly ricocheting guitar tones, his last record sounded like it was trembling; really, it was ruminating, parsing through different crises and deciding on certain defiant truths for them. He concluded, halfway through ‘Carey’s Cold Spring’, that “The world is sick, the world is sad, but what you gotta try and do is be glad”; as if to say that and then some, he later delivered an essay for the Talkhouse dealing with his own cancer struggle and the concept of respecting death after life. It might sound as post-apocalyptic as literally every Canadian rock band that has ever existed, but this music is good for you. Trust in it.
Mercer’s new record, ‘Pickpocket’s Locket’ is arguably just the same but brand new: a rock opera for acoustic guitar, it comes with all the yelping and shaking in tact, Mercer mumble-frowning lyrics as things crest and explode around him. Old bandmate Spencer Krug provides strings to create some sense of ascension in each song (“Joe With the Jam” is at turns epic and quietly romantic, thanks to the rise and fall of its swells), while the acoustic guitar is used as a modest device, something to open up each song’s orchestration -- that guitar belonged Mercer’s father, and he wrote the songs on this album on it, suggesting that they later developed into these Americana sagas, doused in twang and celebrated with symphonies.
As ever, these songs sound urgent and drastic, but there’s a real warmth in them that’s only ever been implied by Mercer in the past. As he pants through “Death’s Ship”, he creates generous and thoughtful imagery (“This is a song for a wild cat”) and lets strangely gleeful melodies connect with the more anxious ones. “In a Hut” sees him crackle through an a cappella intro before a gorgeous piano ballad opens up to the sort of melancholy acceptance of “When The Ship Comes In”. Maybe I’m imagining it, but it’s nice to hear Mercer give in to acceptance: the stakes are lower in this rock opera, but that just means the sounds are nicer.
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