Key Tracks: “Popular By Design,” “Blurry Up the Lines”
“Yes, It’s True” is the fourth album from the vocal-heavy choral-pop-rock band, a genre that is a lot more conventional and a lot less gospel-influenced than it sounds. The Polyphonic Spree currently sits at twenty members, although the album does at times resemble a normal-sized group. The album is heavy on engrossing music and light on inspiring lyrics, but is frequently worthwhile. Former Tripping Daisy frontman Tim DeLaughter is in total control on this album, perhaps even too much. The collective playing behind him is under his spell, following him through his mixed influences.
The album always falls closer to pop than any other genre. Each track plays out like a typical single from one of DeLaughter’s inspirations, from the Beach Boys to Bright Eyes. “Single” is the important word there, though, because every song on the album is “single” standard. In fact, the album’s lead-off single, “You Don’t Know Me,” is not among the album’s better songs. The music on the album is often standard, fun vocal pop. It is a market that has been tapped many times before, but as long as the product is catchy and retains a little depth, it can be done again and again. There are a few tracks were DeLaughter does a back-and-forth in the chorus, exchanging solo lines with group lines from the musicians. It’s all very fun and inspired. The final track, “Battlefield,” ends with an extended synth fade-out that is meant to sound ominous, but almost comes off as anticipation for wanting to record another album.
Lyrically, the album doesn’t hold up nearly as well. Track titles like “Carefully Try” and “Let Them Be” don’t prepare to offer much lyrically. There is nothing more than basic pop poetry here, which can get repetitive. They even sound less inspired alongside the music. It’s rarely an issue, because the album has enough good spirit to make up for this. Also, pop albums nowadays do not seem to be expected to be poetic masterpieces, so it’s expected in a warped way.
Twenty-piece choral-pop groups are hard to come by, but The Polyphonic Spree are doing something right. They may be a collective – their ‘former members’ page on Wikipedia includes forty-five people, one of them being Annie Clark from St. Vincent – but they are having fun in the studio. And when it comes down to it, that is the key to a successful pop group. Things might not work, but if the listener believes enough in the band, they can look past it. And it is very easy to surpass the faults on “Yes, It’s True” and just enjoy the ride.
If you like this, try: “Here” (2012), the second album by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes. The best of their three, and one that includes a surprising variation of influences into a collective effort.
-By Andrew McNally