I was surprised to learn The Kings of Frog Island were releasing the third installment of their purported trilogy, not because two years after II was so soon, but just because I haven’t yet finished listening to that album. Nonetheless comes III, released like 2005’s self-titled and the 2008 follow-up through Germany’s Elektrohasch Schallplatten and a further development of the UK outfit’s fuzz-laden style. At the center of the attack are vocalist/guitarists Mark Buteux and Mat Bethancourt (the latter ex-Josiah and current Dexter Jones Circus Orchestra) and drummer Roger “Dodge” Watson, though Gavin Searle adds vocals, Gregg Hunt plays bass and there are numerous guests throughout. The Kings of Frog Island are what early Desert Sessions jams might have been had they happened in London in the winter instead of, well, the desert.
The main comparison point for The Kings of Frog Island has always been Queens of the Stone Age, and that holds true on III. After the opening intro “In Memoriam,” on which a list of condemned is read out over beating drums, there comes “Glebe Street Whores,” which has shades of “Regular John” from the Queens of the Stone Age 1998 self-titled release in its insistent rhythm and catchy riff. The vocals come on strong, somewhat overblown, and seem to rest on top of the instruments in the mix rather than cut through them, which can make them seem loud. That comes up again later in the album, but if you can find just the right volume and adjust your equalizer to fill out the sound, it’s not an issue. One of III’s catchiest tracks, “Bride of Suicide,” follows “Glebe Street Whores,” and is pushed along at a good clip by steady snare hits from Watson and a good balance of cleaner and fuzz-soaked guitars over a long opening lead section. On first listen, III will sound like The Kings of Frog Island have abandoned some of the warmth of II, and maybe they have, I don’t know, but these songs are still plenty hairy.
There’s a sonic shift with “Dark on You,” on which the album begins to move slower, more deliberately, and with a moodier (and not surprisingly, given the title) darker feel. Longing takes the fore as the central emotion during the oft-repeated memorable chorus, and some lightly strummed guitar from either Buteux or Bethancourt – or maybe someone else, The Kings of Frog Island aren’t exactly forthcoming with the credits – reminds that the band is up to more than simple stoner rock songwriting. That’s reinforced on “The Keeper Of…,” which is longer, more feedback-centric and reminiscent somewhat of II’s more meandering moments. The opening segment reminds me too of the intro to the title track of Los Natas’ Nuevo Orden de la Libertad, but that’s more likely sonic coincidence than anything else, and there’s certainly more to the track than its beginning; the open jam feels recorded live and added to, filled out, by later studio work, which is not a side III has yet shown.
Another twist comes with “More Than I Should Know” echoing the pastoral feel of “Laid” from II, The Kings of Frog Island making their penchant for vocal harmonizing one of the most present elements of the song for the first time on III. The sweetness of the guitar provides a decent transition into the build of “Ode to Baby Jane,” which is atmospheric but not inactive, and the longest track on the record at 7:28 (only two seconds longer than “The Keeper Of…”). It doesn’t feel long, however, and it is a patient song with some of the best fuzz The Kings of Frog Island have on offer, though a shaker is too loud in the mix and recalls the problems from “Glebe Street Whores.” After that, III seems to end quickly, with “I Ain’t Sorry,” “A Cruel Wind Blows” and “Gallowtree Gate” wrapping the album in fast succession but still boasting some notable turns sound-wise. “I Ain’t Sorry” builds its verse on steady bass drum hits and dreamy guitar lines, but pulls back for a reeling chorus. The song is a vocal and guitar highlight, quintessential The Kings of Frog Island, but I’d easily trade the up-front vocals for a more ambient feel. Again, it’s all on how you listen.
Structurally, “A Cruel Wind Blows” is perhaps the most diverse track on III, with the possible exception of “The Keeper Of…” An acoustic intro and outro are sandwiched around a more rocking middle, like if “Mosquito Song” from Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs for the Deaf suddenly took off with Chris Goss in the lead. The dreamy acoustics are no less welcome than any of the other turns III has yet taken, and as the pounding drum of the closer “Gallowtree Gate” mirrors the album’s beginnings, I can’t help but get the feeling the two-plus minute track couldn’t have seen life as the intro for a much longer song. Not that it’s incomplete, but had The Kings of Frog Island decided to tack on another six minutes to it, you wouldn’t find me complaining. In fact, ditto that for the album as a whole. More please.
Whether or not we’ll actually get more from these players is anyone’s guess. The intended trio of albums is complete with III, so if and when The Kings of Frog Island have more to say remains in the if and when. To not be satisfied with the three exceptional albums they’ve so far recorded feels selfish or greedy, but it’s hard to listen to anything they’ve so far done and not say, “Wow, I wonder where they’re gonna go from here.” There are plenty of changes between II and III, but if The Kings of Frog Island are going to do more, the question and the impulse to ask it remain as strong as ever.
Tags: Elektrohasch, London, The Kings of Frog Island, UK