There’s little I’m inclined to argue with less than a new The Kings of Frog Island record. Their 2013 outing, IV (review here), began a new era for the amorphous UK band, self-releasing LPs after a three-album stint on Elektrohasch, and they follow that LP quickly with the heady two-sides of V, which furthers their blend of classic psych, garage rock and heavy/desert rock impulses. I don’t think it really matters who shows up on a given day for the studio, just so long as they can jam, and V unquestionably benefits from that mentality, and this time around, steady partakers Mark Buteaux (vocals/guitar), Roger “Dodge” Watson (drums) and Gavin Searle are joined by Gavin Wright and Tony Heslop, who came aboard last time out, and Lee Madel-Toner, with Scarlett Searle guesting. Change and fluidity have been running themes for The Kings of Frog Island since their 2005 self-titled debut, and V is no exception.
Like IV, there’s no number anywhere on the 12″ sleeve that would tip you off if you didn’t already know it was the fifth album, but even side-by-side with its predecessor, V shows off a heady growth in sound and confidence from last year’s offering, Buteaux comfortable topping side A’s tripped-out closer “Raised in a Lion’s Den” with a single line of vocals (“I was born in a desert, raised in a lion’s den”) to add mystique to an already molten atmosphere. In particular, the blend of ambience and more grounded songwriting — something The Kings of Frog Island have never lacked — is readily on display throughout the new LP, an early highlight arriving with the psychedelic desertisms of “Sunburn,” the opener that billows out of the introductory “Tangerine.” For the first half, divisions between songs are otherwise pretty clear. “Tangerine” hypnotizes early and gives way directly to “Sunburn,” but that song, “Temporal Riff,” which follows, “Born on the Fourth” and “Raised in a Lion’s Den” have definitive starts and finishes, which by the time side B rounds out won’t be the case. “Temporal Riff” is another early high point, departing from “Sunburn”‘s distortion waves and into ’60s-style acoustic psych pop that subtly builds around a wash of cymbals that continues a theme from last time out of patient, impeccably captured drumming from Watson, fluid in the speakers and in the ears and a key element in the band’s approach. The song itself isn’t limited to that or to a jam — it has one of the album’s best hooks, right up there with “Sunburn” — but it makes the transition easier into the classic garage rock swagger of “Born on the Fourth,” a quicker jaunt distinguished by call and response vocals and the lyric “Put your hand in the palm of mine,” which mirrors the rhythmic insistence well.
“Raised in a Lion’s Den” is likewise well placed at the end of side A, since it foreshadows some of what side B gets up to with its lull-your-consciousness rollout and sense of lysergic space rock meandering. “Novocaine” is earthbound compared to some of what follows, with a lightly Beatles-style verse-into-chorus transition, but still plenty groovy, starting out soft and getting into volume-swell guitar antics and subdued airiness before the more purely desert-tinged “Five O Grind” reminds of the expanses a Kyuss influence can cover when put to best use. The swirl and heavier vibe is immediate, echoing vocals deep under the riff, the title repeated as the lyrical center of the song, the fuzz consuming. It’s the most forceful of the riffers on V, but not out of place either with “Novocaine” before it or “Destroy all Monsters” after, which references Godzilla in its title and is pretty clearly named for its largesse of riff, similarly to how “Temporal Riff” may have been titled for its backward-in-time vibing. “Five O Grind” is the last bit of earthly grooving The Kings of Frog Island do here, if you can call it that, since even when their material is structured it’s blissed out, and the last three cuts, “Destroy all Monsters,” “Make it Last” and “On” bleed together to finish the album in flowing fashion, the clear ending of “Five O Grind” with its lead guitar, buried vocals and steady nod giving way to the stomp of “Destroy all Monsters” — how else would one do that but with giant lizard feet and maybe a bit of laser breath? — which flows nebulously into “Make it Last” and “On.” Where the point of separation is between the last three tracks, I don’t know exactly, but “Destroy all Monsters” seems to separate after several turns of standalone drone riffing into feedback from which a more fuzzed riff emerges (the drums rejoin), and if you told me that was the switch into “Make it Last,” I’d believe you.
From there, one might point out any number of points at which “On” takes hold to round out V, but in doing so I think a crucial intent of the album would be sacrificed. As with IV, it’s pretty clear that a big part of The Kings of Frog Island‘s intent in only releasing an LP edition of V is that the record should be experienced as a whole, in one complete sitting split only between sides A and B. Ultimately, where “Make it Last” becomes “On” doesn’t matter. It’s the fades in and out, the feedback, drum-propelled, the steady bassline and the ground the material covers that’s all the more important than if the quick stop is where one ends and another begins. Either way, V is finished with its fading, synth-topped jam, a foundational guitar, bass, drum rhythm topped by a wash that continues even as ambient vocals make a surprise return as if to remind that there are still humans somewhere behind all this liquefied noise. Tambourine punctuates for a while and what must be “On” devolves into one last hypnotic wash of psychedelic melody, organ sounds being the last element present before the needle returns. I’ve been a nerd for The Kings of Frog Island since their 2008 fuzz-landmark, II, and in the years since, they’ve showed an unrelenting pursuit of expanded-mind exploration. What’s perhaps most encouraging about V is how amiable a companion it is for IV while maintaining a personality of its own. Clearly grown out of the preceding full-length, V seems to establish the band’s progression as one set to continue with no end in sight. Again, you won’t hear me argue.