The record reviewing process is a frustrating one that is fraught with difficulties, ups and downs, pitfalls challenges and hopeful light at the end of the tunnel for all individuals involved. Among the numerous people along the music food chain, it all begins with the artist who invests their time, money and life-blood creating their art, often times pouring out their heart and soul to the world. Then there is the long suffering publicist who is been hired to get the word out to the news media about said artists records. And then there is you, the noble reader of reviews and collector of music who can make or break an artist's career by deciding whether or not to become a supportive fan by purchasing his or her music.
It's thus somewhat disheartening to discover a fine, brand spanking new record in a thrift shop bargain bin a month before it's been released, as I did recently. Take the case of the new album by The Polyphonic Spree -- Yes, It's True -- which comes out on August 6.
I had the good fortune of finding a CD of this album, a promotional copy, at a local thrift store.
This is the album that the group made thanks to a hugely successful, fan-funded Kickstarter campaign.
It cost me one dollar...
As in $1.00...
Shame on the record reviewer or industry insider hipster person who was sent this release in the first place who (I'm guessing) most likely didn't even bother to review it. If they did, I can only surmise that they would have liked and kept it because it is a fun pop record. At least they had the good sense to give it to an organization whose sales profits will go to charity; I'm sure The Polyphonic Spree would dig that.
Happily for The Polyphonic Spree, I was the one to find this nifty gem and am turning around the favor of the early listen with an appropriate review.
I'm happy to report that this new one, again, called Yes, It's True, is a really fun album! Now, I have to acknowledge that I missed their last album (The Fragile Army) so I can't compare it to that (I will be going back to check it out) but I do know their fine Together We're Heavy album very well (I have the DVD Audio version in 5.1 surround sound and it is a fab listen!). This new one takes a lot of the fine elements of the classic Polyphonic Spree sound and streams it down into a tighter more rocking combo sound that could easily be played by 4 or 5 people easily if they wanted to (albeit as long as they had 15 or so singers along with them too).
Many of the trademark Polyphonic Spree choral parts are still in there as well as the fist pumping anthems of hope, but much of the music on this album sounds a bit more personal and a little bit less (if you will, and said with all due respect to the band) hippie dippy.
Yes, It's True rocks a bit harder.
Fans of The Flaming Lips who long for a return to the days of The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots might well like this album quite a bit. You see, lead Polyphonic Spree-er Tim Delaughter's voice sounds quite a bit like head Flaming Lip Wayne Coyne who, well, also sounds quite a bit like Neil Young. Combined with the overall optimistic message underlying many of these songs, I could see some Lips fans digging this stuff. I mean this in a good way, as I'm a huge Flaming Lips fan myself
Yes, It's True is is full of pop hooks and catchy songs that rank right up with what Polyphonic Spree has done in the past. My favorites so far include "Hold Yourself Up" (with its brilliant catch line "she's got roller coaster eyes...") which neatly echo's Violator-era Depeche Mode (right down to the tubular bells, ala "Enjoy The Silence") and "Carefully Try." The anthemic "What Would You Do?" near the album's end is inspiring. The super-simple, driving drum programming underlying some tracks on the disc might throw some people looking for a more organic band sound, but some how it works, especially on tracks like "Popular By Design" with its neat little ambient loopy sounds percolating in the background.
A record industry person might say that The Polyphonic Spree have made a modern sounding record here (perhaps in a 1990s "Modern Rock" sort of way).
There are live drums on the album such as "Heart Talk" which almost has a sort of Kinks-meets-Bowie sort of flavor to it replete with its pounding piano chords, multi-tracked baritone saxophones and Elvis (Presley)-worthy slap on the vocals. I'd love to hear Brian Ferry cover this tune.
Breaking News: Just as I was about to send off this review I decided to check The Polyphonic Spree's FaceBook page. There, just by chance I found a fresh post of less than one hour's vintage announcing a super limited edition advance release of the new album happening right then and there! It was a colored vinyl, bootleg-styled packaging, test pressing-type release. A quick call to a couple of stores and I found that indeed Amoeba Records had some on the shelves. Woo hoo! I ran over and got my copy, #457 of 500 on pink vinyl. Win! It sounds real good so far with somewhat fuller bass and midranges. It has even got a goofy smile on one of the labels and on the cover, reminiscent of those found on The Beach Boys' legendary SMiLE album.
Gotta love that. :-)
Now I feel better about my $1.00 CD bargain copy from the the thrift shop.
Yes It's True is worth way more than that.
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written. www.smotroff.com