The Polyphonic Spree – “Yes, It’s True”

(Photo Credit: Glide Magazine)

Grade: B+

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

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Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes – “Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes”

(Photo Credit: Consequence of Sound)

Grade: B-

Key Tracks: “Let’s Get High,” “Remember to Remember”

The first minute and a half of the song “If I Were Free” features two singers. The first singer has two brief moments of vocal impression – Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. The second singer, Ringo Starr ala “Yellow Submarine.” These vocal inflections are not meant to be intentional. The band is not trying to repeat the music done by those that inspire them. The vocal similarities to Dylan, Springsteen and Starr more seem to slip out, and that is what most of this album is. “Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes” feels like odes to those that came before, with it’s attempts at originality feeling somewhat mixed. Self-titled albums are meant to be declarations of the band’s distinct sound, but this album is ironically the least original of their three.

“Up From Below,” the debut from Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, had a distinct country-folk sound that was trimmed perfectly for crossover radio. “Home” is a country song, completely, but found love on alternative radio (and in my head for a whole summer). Their follow-up, “Here” was an underrated gospel-based gem. This new, self-titled album doesn’t have as much of the mixing as it seems to think it has. It more resembles a Dylan album, when he was at his mid-60′s peak. Five studio musicians join the band’s eleven members on the album, but it feels like a one-person operation at times. Lengthy openers “Better Days” and “Let’s Get High” sound like a number of musicians gathered around one songwriter, following his or her lead, instead of a collective. “Let’s Get High” is a phenomenally energetic and great song, but one that doesn’t quite capture the feel of the band. Luckily, the album doesn’t continue this feel, as the songs get shorter and more voices are introduced. Lead singer Alex Ebert is given many lead moments (especially on “This Life”), but so is back-up singer Jade Castrinos, who gets to shine bright 0n “Remember to Remember.” Other singers are thrown into the mix, too, and frequently. Once the album gets past it’s inspired but dragging opening two tracks, it begins to feel like the huge collaborative effort it should.

“Two,” which is humorously the third song, is a beautiful duet between Ebert and Castrinos. “Life is Hard” and “If I Were Free” make the album’s middle a fun if agenda-less listen, bolstered by skilled songwriting. The pace drags towards the end. There are a number of slow songs that seemed to flow together, and lost my interest. The halted pace overstays it’s welcome, but at least it doesn’t finish out the album. The aforementioned “This Life” and “Remember to Remember” are not fast songs, but serve as powerful ending notes to the album. It is mixed, overall, and lacks the based-yet-blended originality that its predecessors had, but “Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes” is, at its core, an enjoyable folk collective, aiming high and hitting it more often than not.

If you like this, try: Phosphorescent’s criminally underrated folk-everything album “Muchacho” (2013)

-By Andrew McNally