There are many, many adjectives in the English language, and it seems that a great many of them--heck, maybe all of them--describe The Polyphonic Spree. Maybe the only one that doesn't fit is "small." The ensemble that is the Spree and the buzz that follows them in their sudden emergence in multiple musical sub-universes seems to pose more questions than give answers--but don't look to me for any info. What I can tell you, though, is a little bit about their new album Together We're Heavy. I could spend a paragraph or two on just the title of the CD itself, each of the three words in there seemingly fraught with double and triple meanings.
A quick recap for those not paying attention: The Polyphonic Spree is Tim Delaughter's traveling cast of a plotless Broadway musical, or his Up-With-People inspirational ensemble, or his join-us cult of brain dead flopsies. Or maybe the Spree is just a group of people making wonderfully uplifting music. Either way, the album is another scene in Act I of one of the most refreshing acts out there. The tracks are titled as sections, starting at "Section 11 (A Long Day Continues/We Sound Amazed)" – i.e. they continue the first 10 tracks from their debut The Beginning Stages of... which lends credence to a theory of greatness to everything they do. Yeah, the album is heavy with pomposity, but to make this music, you probably have to really believe in it... whatever the "it" is. It's futile to break down Heavy into individual tracks or individual lyrics (as potentially inspirational as they might be). The album starts out with a brief period of ambience, an inversely grandiose prologue that is cut abruptly by a spine-tingling stretch on a harp followed with a powerful boom of dozens or maybe even hundreds of voices and instruments. What follows are ten movements to a larger orchestration: guitars, pianos, chimes, drums, full brass sections, piccolos, and who knows what else, plus voices layered on voices on voices... so many voices coming from left, right, top and bottom. Delaughter has proven to be a pretty heady godfather to this project, its lead voice, composer, and conductor. Occasionally the guitar gets a little rocking, occasionally the keys and bass get a little funky, occasionally the voices get a little otherworldly but this is neither rock nor pop nor show tunes nor classical nor anything other than just being the Polyphonic Spree--an album-long climax. There are no good intentions here, just good.
There aren't too many surprises: if you've heard the Spree, you know what you're getting on this album. Is it good or bad? It is what it is, never has such a cop-out been truer. Pages could be spent investigating lyrics or searching for message or finding irony where there really isn't any to be found. The more you dig for "something" in this album, the less satisfied you're going to be with what's really there. The real joys are how Delaughter has brought together a zillion pieces of music from a full-numbered orchestra and made each little piece count toward a whole. That harp trill that starts the action, a wailing theramin somewhere under layers of female voices, a vibrating violin giving way to a single note on the piano--this is really what the album is. Maybe I was wrong about the "small" part--for all its largeness, the Polyphonic Spree is really about the small pieces that go toward making it. It is with a smile that I note, then, that there is minimal information in the CD packaging. No liner notes with any sort of explanation as to what we're listening to; no lyrics for the wannabe Spreester to sing along with; and most interestingly, no lineup of musicians and vocalists. It is a faceless, nameless mass of voices and instruments, communism in its purest, most benign and enjoyable form.
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