New York City has always been the epicentre of cool for music. Every band dreams of playing there and anyone who has been to the Big Apple will tell you that you can’t help but be drawn into the sheer energy and excitement of the place. However, as Scott Pilgrim taught us all so well, it’s also s place that outsiders love to find solace, hope and like-minded folk in… We’re harbouring a guess but we’d imagine guitarist and vocalist Dan Bateman and drummer Thomas White fall into that second category. Hailing from Queens, together the two have formed a band called Frog who have already received acclaim from all our favorite sites including Drowned in Sound and GoldFlakePaint. Now, with a new low-key statement replacing the band’s name as its title, the duo are releasing ‘Kind of Blah’ through Audio Antihero Records.
Recorded under a derelict bowling alley, the album really does suck you into the New York that Frog know… Opening with ‘All Dogs Go to Heaven’ – a song we assume to have been named after the underrated 1980s weepie – Frog welcome you subtly. Neutral Milk Hotel-goes-country vibes and minimalistic vocals are delivered while the lyrics are suitably Tom Waits-esque: ‘Fuck with me darling and I’ll make you pay’. To make sure the song is not entirely terrifying, the band also showcase their line in self-depreciating humor telling you long before the song’s final note that ‘All songs end in quiet refrain’. This continues on to the garage rock of ‘Fucking’. A psychedelic-meets-West Coast vibe is delivered at a rapid speed while there are also jangly moments which mark Frog out as a band that would have been perfectly at home playing at the Bronze in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Playfully referencing a very famous Disney song, ‘Wish Upon a Bar’ brings to mind the Divine Comedy with its line in humor and dreamy soundscapes, although again the lyrics hint at something far more sinister: ‘You wish upon a bar, please don’t tell me where you are’; and ‘It’s almost Christmas time, the bartenders get in line and they ask you about your kids…’ opening your eyes to the story behind the song.
There is a big 1960s-style ‘Wall of Sound’ effect wrapped around ‘Photograph’ although the subject matter remains contemporary as first Dan references getting a text and then, in a huge outpouring of emotion, continually repeats: ‘I don’t know where you are’. With its huge, anthemic sound there is also some words about ‘1979’ thrown into the mix and we reckon it just has to be a Smashing Pumpkins reference… Frog show time and time again on this record just how much a simple tink of a glockenspiel can add to emotion-laden song and this is used to great effect on ‘Everything 2002’ – a track that recalls The Most Serene Republic at their most lucid and, inevitably, Los Campesinos!, especially when Dan opens up about his personal life: ‘I poured kerosene on my old dirty magazines, Mom and Dad don’t be mad at me’.
‘King Kong’ perhaps finds Frog at their most widespread sound – veering from a huge sound that is worthy of the big ape to lo-fi Moldy Peaches-style anti-folk and then back again, with a jaunt into eccentric pop along the way. This soon moves onto the sublime sound of ‘Catchyalater’, which evokes The Antlers while also remaining grounded in modern reality: ‘I watch you through the kitchen window, I wanna call you, I just play Nintendo…’ There’s a feeling of helplessness and regret as ‘Ohhs’ slither in and out of gently pitched guitars. As Dan sings: ‘I saw you exit’ and ‘Here comes the doctor, here comes the nurse’, you can’t help feel his anguish. Especially when a detuned piano and nominal applause enter the fray… The album’s lead single ‘Judy Garland’ at first recalls Herman Dune with its opening notes but as the band sing about Fred Astaire, the Chelsea stores, the drag queens and the whores, it veers into an unexpected disco territory which falls somewhere between Wild Beasts and Perfume Genius having a dance-off. It’s a huge and grand pop sound that comes from leftfield – but it works so well.
‘I’m an adventurer’ is a line from the album and it’s a hell of a journey to join Frog on. An album that will have you an emotional mess at one moment and hopping for joy at the next… ‘Kind of Blah’ is anything but.