Going into this album with only the band name, the album name and the cover art, I didn’t expect much. I thought they were going to be some Neutral Milk Hotel wannabes, but instead of changing the face of music with an amazing combination of sounds and killer lyrics, like NMH, I thought Frogbelly was just going to be bad.
I mean just look at the cover art. It has too many pop culture references to count and tons of meaningless “symbolic imagery.” The thing’s like an “I SPY” book, but instead of being super interesting and fun it’s just strange and off-putting. The point is I didn’t have high expectations coming into this.
I didn’t know what I was in for when I loaded up “Blue Bright Ow Sleep” by Frogbelly and Symphony. The album starts out pretty quick with “Minderbinder” which begins with with a pretty standard rock sound with a pinch of early punk influence thrown in. However there is a Neutral Milk Hotel-esque haunting backtone which persists throughout the entire song.
“Minderbinder” starts with a fairly forgettable vocal performance with basically throwaway lyrics, but through its many key and time changes ends up with a rap-like spoken word section interlude which strings together a nearly uninterpretable string of references and name drops without any context whatsoever.
Liz Hanley, the main female vocalist, has a soft gravel in her, much like Aja Volkman from Nico Vega. For the most part she’s decent with it, but a couple times in each song you notice that she doesn’t really have the control to pull it off that well.
Tom Hanley, the main male vocalist, has a mid range and mostly smooth sound. His parts are pleasant but nothing that exciting. I also believe their vocal talents are partially tainted by the lyrics they’re singing, which at best are imitations of other bands, and at worst non-coherent throwaway bullshit.
In my opinion Frogbelly and Symphony’s biggest problem is that they’re all over the place. They’ve got ‘70s rock guitar, experimental indie vocals, blues, rhythm and poetry, and more key and tempo changes than you can count. Their only song that retains any kind of coherence is “Shingle,” an Irish rock ballad which, although musically pleasing, includes lyrics that are basically what people would say if asked what Irish people sound like.
It’s not like the members aren’t musically talented either. There are some really awesome parts in some songs, but they are often surrounded by unrelated genres smashed together with apparently very little thought or finesse. “Ride off into the Sunset and Disappear” has some amazing jazz bass and drums put together with spooky oh-ing which just doesn’t mix. “Cola in Mongolia” is a decent soft indie rock jam with a killer guitar solo at the end of it that just doesn’t seem to fit.
Ultimately my assessment of this band is that they have potential. They have musical talent in a wide range of genres and aren’t afraid to experiment. However it seems as if they don’t really know what works and what doesn’t. “Bright Blue Ow Sleep” is an album which will mostly leave you wondering if the songs got all mixed together, with brief stretches of decently executed rifts and interludes.