“Enigmatic” is not usually a positive word to describe a release; I try to avoid any sort of word that conveys my confusion about things in an album. But there’s a deeply enigmatic streak that runs through Frog‘s Kind of Blah: speedy vocal rhythms bump up against hectic guitar noise, moods change on a dime, sounds come out of nowhere, and the songs generally keep their own counsel. Kind of Blah resists easy classification, making it an indie-rock album of merit that is very much worth your time.
Frog is a duo, but it makes recorded noise on a much grander scale than four arms might command at once. The general base is a sort of jangly indie-rock with bite, but the layers are really what make the sound come into its own. The most immediate element is Dan Bateman’s loopy, reedy, nasally (but not uncomfortably so), yearning vocals. Bateman always seems to be lunging for something: a high pitch, a remarkable amount of syllables in a line, a long-held note. His acrobatic, enthusiastic, idiosyncratic voice is both the price of admission and the payoff: if you’re into quirky vocalists, Bateman contends with the greats in both confidence and using what he has to the best of his ability.
The instrumental layers that fit between Bateman’s voice and Thomas White’s drums are remarkable as well. There’s all manner of guitars (electric, acoustic, and bass), analog-sounding synths (“Everything 2002”), glockenspiel, and found sound recordings. The diversity of sounds meets the diversity of moods: Bateman and White take us through frantic garage rock (“King Kong”), mid-tempo slacker rock (“Photograph”), pastoral indie-rock (“Wish Upon a Bar,” “Judy Garland”), and slow-building pensive tunes (“Irish Goodbye”). This isn’t an album that indiscriminately stomps the distortion pedal: Frog is interested in creating a lot of different textures, and they achieve that goal.
As fits with such a diverse album, my two favorite tunes from the record do very different things. “Everything 2002” is a quiet tune that pairs a swift-moving picking pattern with gentle vocals, fragile synths, and an overall chill mood. The tension between fast and slow is expertly held together, resulting in a beautiful tune. “Judy Garland” takes the sort of rolling picking pattern that might be present in a bluegrass tune and recontextualizes it by fitting in gauzy synths and an unhinged rapid-fire Bateman vocal ramble. Then they drop in a dance-rock drumbeat, the catchiest vocal hook of the album, some glockenspiel, artsy guitar riffing, and vocal scatting. How it all holds together I can’t explain even a little bit, but I want to listen to it over and over. I’m telling you: enigmatic.
Frog’s Kind of Blah is anything but: it’s one of the most complex, “blink and you miss it” albums I’ve heard in a long time. If you’re into albums that will challenge you but also pay off at the end of the work, look up Kind of Blah. Albums like this don’t come around that often.
(Also, we debuted a Frog video earlier this year. It’s pretty cool.)