Frog Eyes - Carey's Cold Spring | Album Review | By Volume

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Frog Eyes

Carey's Cold Spring

It is hard to imagine better singers.

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Author: on October 15, 2013
October 7, 2013

I am sitting here trying to think of the best way for me, one of the Frog Eyes uninitiated, to summarise Carey’s Cold Spring, my first spiritual experience with them. First, I should say that it has made me think about adversity a great deal. It has made me think of it as a vague principle, but also as an evil fog, one that consumes this album and somehow consequentially the world it lives in. Carey Mercer talked about the album in terms of all the world’s tragic and evil contexts, external and internal, and hearing his music, it sounds as if he wants to get at them all. They are present, united even, within these songs, from personal losses to “fear of the right”, from the very first mantra – from his declaration that the road is long – to the graphic imagery of “Seven Daughters” and its shooting squad, cigarettes placed in their mouth only so we focus on their cruel, curled lips. Carey’s Cold Spring sees the fate in front of you when your back is against the wall, or the hopeless road ahead of you when you’re on a desert track with no one for company. One of its crucial premises, in fact, seems to be how the worst things imaginable are transformed with the transience of company: not “a night so cold”, but “we want a night so cold”. Or: not the dreams we share, but “your dreams”, because they might save us both.

Which leads me to what else this album has made me think about: facing adversity. Together, alone, or with a little bit of both, you stare back into the eyes of your destroyer and cuss. Mercer recently wrote an article for the Talk House which may as well be called Fuck Abuse, for what it told us: “Fuck not death, but merrily say I: Fuck Abuse”. It was a beautiful, touching piece about how death is not the end; the end is a deathly human life. I can’t rewrite his words better – he speaks for himself – but it’s obvious to me that Carey’s Cold Spring is not focused on a natural disaster or the moment when it’s your time to go; it’s about the man-made bullshit and the smile you crack while you’re here. Perhaps one of the most reassuring moments on this album is one where its eponymous character-narrator jumps out of the page, takes your hand, and bestows these themes on you like advice: “Don’t”, he says, hurling the word at you, “Don’t give up your dreams”. They’re your dreams, of course, but Mercer is keeping them safe for you.

Mercer later uses “Don’t Give Up Your Dreams” to divide Carey’s Cold Spring down the middle in six words: “When you’re running from the rave”. This is the album’s tension, but also its crux, its attempt to juxtapose fears – both for the world and for family tragedy – with those features of life that are not abused, but tended to; those that could dissolve, but would sooner materialise before your eyes. As long as Mercer runs, he really lives, and that’s why ultimately, and in spite of its horrifying themes, this music is a fucking treat to listen to. It is majestic, sprinkled with the kind of unearthly symbols and gestures we are accustomed to from any of Canada’s impressionist songwriters, be they a moody Dan Bejar, or dragonslaying Spencer Krug, or a fantastically rebellious Mercer. It is defiant in the way music is, with guitar crunches and momentary riffs that peak like sharp spikes, and in choruses that are also revelations. It is, most of all, a fresh protest; it sounds like a rebirth in a way that Fuck Death couldn’t, because it was too fragmented, searching for a way to kill that which kills. The moments that catch you on this album – the ones I repeat and write down with the same steadfastness that Mercer would scream Fuck Death while cycling, and now Fuck Abuse while recovering – are those with continuous movement, and a zest for life disproportionate to the beat-downs the world provides. Perhaps the best comes in “A Duration of Starts and Lines that Form Code”, a song drenched in Mercer’s warm, growling guitar tone, with so much energy it just wants to start again: “One, two, three, four”, Mercer breathes at the song’s outro, hyperventilating as if his Cold Spring is just now beginning.

Mercer’s spirit lies in his movement: his guitar tones embody the rigid limitations of stoner rock, but his rhythms are marvellously fluid, and his sense of space even better. The road he speaks of on “The Road Is Long” unwinds in front of his audience, the instrumental onslaught refraining to let his voice echo into the valley.  “Seven Daughters”, a song of loopy countrified synths and the album’s brightest guitar abstractions, rolls by with the callousness of the world contained in it, switching focus between the shooting squad and its daughter heroes with the breeze. Only at this speed can the story have its reassurance: “The world is sick, the world is sad, but what you gotta do is try and be glad.” Carey’s Cold Spring moves with rapidity that even its more ballad-orientated moments – “Noni’s Got a Taste For the Bright Air Jordan’s”, its most jaw-droppingly beautiful moment – can’t hold back. It’s thirty-five minutes long, and it holds the world’s problems in its hands like that’s all the time it needs.

I understand Carey’s Cold Spring as an album that should be hard to listen to, but one that is ultimately refreshing and recyclable. I’ve listened to it over and over, and the moments that have jumped out with the most significance have been those that react when a reaction seems unconceivable. In moments like the one which tells us to be glad, or that which safeguards our dreams, Mercer has taken from headlines of gloom and made music with an endless resource of encouragement and charity. And so I don’t see this as a record about just adversity, nor as one that triumphs over it, but one created of both parts, fighting in the grey area between them, and doing so because, well, what else? More of Carey’s Cold Spring comes to life than dissipates. That is as close to a happy ending it gets.

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