Review & Video Premiere: The Kings of Frog Island, VII


[Click play above to stream the premiere of The Kings of Frog Island’s video for ‘Beyond the Void.’ New album VII is out July 30 on Kozmik Artifactz.]

It was some 13 standard earth years ago that The Kings of Frog Island issued their “Welcome to the Void” on their second album, 2008’s II (discussed here), and now, with VII, they willfully go beyond. “Beyond the Void” leads off the Leicester, UK, outfit’s new collection, VII, a stirring 10-track offering that seems to make the listener the beneficiary of a surge in productivity on the part of the band. That is to say, it was six years between 2014’s V (review here) and the release of VI (review here) in 2020, and now, less than a year later, guitarist Mark Buteux, vocalist Gavin Searle, bassist Lee Madel-Toner, drummer Roger “Dodge” Watson — plus Gavin William WrightTony Heslop and Neve Buteux — have turned around a follow-up, comprising 47 minutes of sungazing, mellow-heavy psychedelia and fuzz, melodic, unpretentious, dug in and of a style the band have now worked over the last few years to establish as their own that pulls together the various sides of their now 18-year trajectory.

The key seems to have been the band launching their own studio in Amphibia Sound Studios IV, which not only has allowed them to record more, since they’re the ones doing it and thus less subject to schedules, etc., but also to build their songs in a different way. No doubt this process was upset by the covid-19 pandemic in some way over the course of the last 15 months — easy to speculate, since everything was — but The Kings of Frog Island still sound very much like themselves, and that distinction is important because it encompasses both the catchy, straightforward underlying structure of “Blackened Soul,” the drifting post-grunge of “Dopamine” and the psych blues minimalist try-it-and-see-how-it-goes experimentalism of “SuperEgo.” Though not without a darker moment in “Empire” on side B, VII speaks of the sunshine on three tracks in a row with “Blackened Soul,” “Summer Sun” and “Dopamine,” and even “Rain” talks about stepping into the light — its hook line being, “So get out of the rain.” The penultimate “Five Hours” does its part to “hold onto the summer” as well and assures, “it’ll be alright.”

In context, it’s easy to read this as psychedelic escapism on the part of the band, and if that’s the case, it works just as fluidly for the listener. While “Beyond the Void” sets up elements like the backing vocals behind Searle and the Revolver-in-an-alternate-reality-dance-hall groove that accompanies, it’s the interplay between that track and “All the King’s Horses” immediately following that gives the audience more of a clue as to the scope of The Kings of Frog Island at this stage in their career. For the better part of two decades and across seven records of various shifts in personnel and craft, the band has worked to find a way to carry those hearing their songs along the current of the material in the manner they make sound so natural here, blending the ethereality of “All the King’s Horses” with the harder fuzz of “The Silver Arrow” while retaining a consistent identity between them. This isn’t just about tones or melodies, but the production style and the manner in which parts are layered as well. This development of the studio space as a part of the character of the group as a whole, it comes through in the material in a way that it couldn’t have before Amphibia Sound IV, and it’s helped The Kings of Frog Island to find their multi-pronged path and to walk it in kind.

the kings of frog island

“Beyond the Void” (6:12), “Empire” (5:36) and “SuperEgo” (7:43) are the only tracks on VII that top five minutes long — though “All the King’s Horses” and “Blackened Soul” come close — and though that’s more than appeared on VI, that prior album also had 10 tracks and three of them under four minutes, where VII has four. Does that speak of a burgeoning divergence between longer songs and shorter in The Kings of Frog Island‘s approach? I’ve no idea, and I don’t think it’s a question that can be answered at this point. VI was put together over a series of years, and for all I know, VII might have been sculpted out of the same ongoing sessions, but as an album, it presents as being markedly cogent in its purposes, whether a given song works fast or slow, loud or quiet. The atmosphere and mood of “Empire,” or how the song descends into its fade ahead of the burst-to-life at the start of “The Silver Arrow,” isn’t to be taken for granted. They are far from the ’90s-style, handclap-inclusive Britpsych of “Summer Sun” at that point, or even the warm rumble of “Blackened Soul,” but the easy sway of “Five Hours” helps ease the transition into “SuperEgo,” and the breadth and subtlety of that final build is a marked achievement that underlines the songwriting at work throughout the album preceding it.

I see no reason to mince words or deny that I have been and remain a fan of The Kings of Frog Island‘s output over the better part of the last two decades. What VII does is add to their list of accomplishments, push further their creative style and make it that much easier for the listener — whether a fan of long-standing or not — to roll where they roll. You don’t have to know “Welcome to the Void” to go “Beyond the Void,” and through “Blackened Soul” and “Summer Sun” and “Dopamine” and “Rain” and “Five Hours” and really the whole thing, the prevalence of vibe in their material not only stems from the depth of the mix — the way the vocals are blown out on top of “Blackened Soul” or the slow-motion scorch of the lead guitar in “Empire” — but from the essence of the songs themselves. I’m not sure “exciting” is the right thing to call a release that spends so much of its time basking in psychedelic serenity, but VII is that, just the same, and each song is an invitation to the audience to join the band on this journey into the moment. They make it a pleasure to go.

The Kings of Frog Island, “Summer Sun” official video

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