Top 100 Albums of the Decade: #99 Frog Eyes - The Golden River
The Top 100 Influential Artists of the Decade list and the Top 100 Albums of the Decade list will be posted over the course of 100 days. On September 23rd, we will post an artist and album and continue every day until December 31st, when we will unveil our #1 artist and #1 album of the decade!
Please read our introduction to learn about our nominating and ordering process.
#99 Frog Eyes - The Golden River
Maybe you've read a story that follows this plot line: a generally well-liked but socially nondescript protagonist searching for meaning in his/her life encounters a rambling madman who changes their perspective of the world forever. The madman could be homeless, or strung out on drugs, or an outlaw on the lam, or any number of other scenarios that might drive a man toward insanity – but their reckless rambling inevitably triggers an epiphany in the restless protagonist. The moral of the story is you've got to come a little unhinged to be worth anything in this world – the faceless nobodies are just as tragic as the madmen, and the most admirable personality probably lands somewhere in the middle. This is a story most amateur writers try to craft at least once – mostly because artists like to frame themselves as wild, misunderstood beasts of meaning.
It is only against this backdrop that I can begin to explain the allure of Frog Eyes – and, more specifically, frontman Carey Mercer. He is a self-branded prophet in the most obtuse sort of way, and The Golden River is the album most likely to trigger sparks from whatever deadwood you thought was inside of you. Chronologically, it falls between The Folded Palm – a great effort but bewilderingly frantic and obscure – and Tears of the Valedictorian, which whittles away a portion of their trademark edge in favor of attention to musicianship and structure. The Golden River splits the difference, draping a cowl of restraint over a beast that would otherwise frighten the living fuck out of you (/ plant the living jitters into you).
Of course, calling Mercer "restrained" is a little bit misleading – it's like saying a pack of piranhas is restrained because they "only" chewed off your hand before sparing your whole body. From the outset, "One in Six Children Will Flee in Boats" sets the tone with these lines: And friends of mine have got friends with coke [. . .] and my heart has passed its final rite / and it's breaking legs for dollars. It's degenerate in a visionary sort of way, just pointed enough to align the listener with the theme of bitterness and disillusionment that permeates the entirety of this disc. From there, it's a freak parade of idiosyncratic guitars and bells, thunderous reverb, and drums that rattle like skeletons dropped down a mine shaft. For every cynical and helpless declaration - "they don't want boyfriends, they want men" (from "Orbis Magnus") - you come upon a redeeming (Alice-in-)wonderland like "Time Destroys Its Plan at the Reactionary Table," a twisted tale I can't help hearing as Mercer's autobiography. It centers around the crushing innocence of a fictional Billy and his hundredth song - "the tale of the millionaires that constructed the fine bolts and put the buildings in the air." And though it's fiercely bleak, it hinges on the jarring and uplifting order at the end of the chorus: "get beneath me, bird!" Therein lies the allure – this album is a flight above the woeful world, launched on the wings of pure nervous energy. The Golden River is intensely textured and yes, ultimately prophetic; it speaks greatly to its strengths that, like the wandering madman, you will never quite figure this whole thing out.