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Tom White and Dan Bateman is the duo that makes up the weird Americana project, Frog. Three years removed from the release of their revelatory sophomore effort, Kind of Blah Bateman and White return with their latest, Whatever We Probably Already Had It (via Audio Antihero). Garnering bottomless praise for Kind of Blah, specifically in the United Kingdom, the group booked their first overseas tour, which was subject of the Alex Coppola-directed film, Kings of Blah.
Whatever We Probably Already Had It via Audio Antihero
Citing influences such as Hank Williams, David Berman of the Silver Jews and even unpredictable acts like Lightning Bolt, the duo devises songs that are simple but complex with rich layers consisting of slow folding instrumentation with nuanced (and often NYC-centric) narratives that take multiple passes to fully digest.
Recorded in upstate New York, the Queens, NY-based duo sidesteps away from their layered folk and opt for songs that are raw and rougher in production. The result is a brief but heavy record, clocking in at 20-minutes, the “mini-album” is a mosaic of vignettes that deal with self-loathing, dissolved romances, and deep introspection.
With heavy-handed sardonicism on “American”, Bateman dons the identity of a brash and blindly proud American, a label that’s taken on a different meaning in the past few years. Darting percussion tap and banjo-esque strings pluck as Bateman kicks off a tirade that’s self-deprecating, funny and serving as a weirdly profound metaphor for American cliches:
‘Yes by god I’m American
God is great he’s hilarious
What the fuck y’all staring at’
Even with serious and dark lyrical matters, the duo’s wry and unpronounced humor permeates through visible and subtle avenues across the record. Indirectly, humor looms in the apathetic record title, along with tracks like the quirky “Frog Lives!” and dusty instrumental “Gimme Your Number”. That same passive humor is largely evident with the lyrics and immodest persona taken on by Bateman, who handles most of the vocal work.
Frog (photo credit: Andrew Piccone)
“Yes miss I’m the king of all this shit / Call me Alec Baldwin of this shit”, Bateman yelps while in the midst of a frantic ramble during “Journey to the Restroom”. A slurry of warbling guitars is conjoined with Bateman’s waterfall of sharp-witted verses which glaze over White’s stoic beating presence. The most hysterical track on the record, its dueling subject matters are juxtaposing scenes from a late night out with a death in a bathroom exemplifies the intricacy in Frog’s songwriting.
Frog (photo credit: Alex Coppola)
Overarched by the theme of failed relationships, “Something To Hide” is a track about chance encounters setup by series of daily annoyances. The narrative follows the collapse of a relationship with a passing fling and avoidance as Bateman and White wade with strained ebb and flows of delirious wails. The quietly devastating “God Once Loved A Woman”, is another love-themed track where hasty feelings are greeted by disappointment. The tender number is led by the quivering and vulnerable voice of Bateman, transitioning to the cacophonous but starkly beautiful ending.
Cresting arpeggios drive in the percussion-less “Bones”, a sentimental ode to the dreary cold nights of New York City. The relatively upbeat (in sound at least) closer, “Don’t Tell Me Where You’re Going” comes full circle in the form of a weary Americana piano ballad. Plodding along a drum machine, what’s left of Bateman’s scraggily vocals wrestles with deep personal aches and realizations.
Frog returns and is alive with tales of sadness, hysteria, and delusions, which is pretty much everyday America. Though the narratives are ambiguous and chimerical, each feel personal and poignant. With Whatever We Probably Already Had It, the cult of Frog will only get bigger.
Cereal Pairing: Honey Smacks
Cover photo taken by Andrew Piccone.