Review of I
While the name alone would be enough to earn the Disc Of The Week title, as a bonus, the CD kicks ass. Anything on Elektrohasch Records, owned by Stefan Koglek of the awe-inspiring desert rock outfit Colour Haze, is more or less a safe bet, but The Kings Of Frog Island’s particular brand of rudimentary psychedelia, blended with stirring acoustics and the occasional fit of stoner thrust, makes this self-titled debut a must have.
The record starts out moody, but opening track “Everybody’s Gonna Lose Their Heads” picks up quick, a running bass line underneath says right off the bat that there’s some serious rock in store, and it’s true. The guitar lead and vocals bring on an excellent dirge in a rough ’70s bellbottomed style.
Versatility being a strong point for the band, both “The Longest Hour,” which should hit like a catchy revelation for fans of earlier Queens Of The Stone Age or Kyuss, and the immediatelyfollowing darkly psychecoustic “Leone” show not necessarily the most complicated levels of songcraft, but certainly that there’s beauty in simplicity. “The River,” though, in which traces of stoner giants Monster Magnet can be heard, continues the acoustics, but is more rhythmic and works well as a transition track.
“Slate Blue Sky” reels things back in with another Elmer’s chorus and excellent performance from ex-Josiah frontman Mat Bethancourt over the keyboards, which set the track’s tone in a heavy late-’60s repetition. “Psychomania” is a more straight-up stoned-out groove, but no less interesting to the ear thanks to the lead work of Mark Buteaux. It makes a good contrast to the instrumental “Amphibia,” which is subtler with an underlying and almost tribal beat low in the mix that pushes the listener headfirst into “Save Me,” an album highlight.
The record closes with a reprise of “Leone,” but before it does, “Beyond The Revolution” kicks a firm affirmation of the band’s ability to time travel. Another Monster Magnet comparison might not be inappropriate here.
Really, there are two modes in which TKOFI operate.Their straight-up desert rock and more “out there” psychedelics. Neither one is anything that hasn’t been done before, but to have a band so new to each other drop a record like this right off the bat really speaks to a near superhuman prowess. It’s scary and great at the same time.
The only problem you’ll have with this disc is finding it. I don’t think it’ll be in Best Buy anytime soon (I might be wrong), but in terms of searching it out, a good place to start would be the label’s website, www.elektrohasch.de
—by JJ Koczan, August 10, 2005 The Aquarian 2005 - Album of the week
Review of II
December 10th, 2008 by Duncan Harris
I was almost afraid to listen to The Kings Of Frog Island. They have such a stupid name that my expectations were already lowered before the disc slid into the CD player (and how long will it be before I stop saying that…?).
Instant Drone Factory had dealt a severe blow to my love of krautrock, and so a German-released stoner rock album had all the hallmarks of a disaster waiting to happen. Although I love stoner rock, I’d never heard of The Kings Of Frog Island before, so my preconceptions were non-existent. This is just fine because 2 is bloody awesome! Like a true distillation of the stoner rock ethic, The Kings Of Frog Island reference Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Hawkwind, but manage to wedge it all into their own surreal universe of toads and amphibians.
After the initial flowering of great stoner rock bands (Monster Magnet, Kyuss) and their own spin-offs and disciples (Fu Manchu, Orange Goblin, Sunno))))), Litmus and Queens Of The Stone Age) the scene seemed to have become stagnant and repetitive. Not any longer. It’s as if The Kings Of Frog Island have taken the brevity and wit of QOTSA (circa their self-titled debut and Rated R) and allied it to the raw weight and sonic depth of prime period Kyuss (Welcome To Sky Valley, Blues For The Red Sun), while seeming to carry on from where …And The Circus Leaves Town left off. The Kings Of Frog Island‘s desert sounds evoke sandy escarpments rather than industrial wastelands, which is odd because this troupe of prime sludge rock merchants appear to be London-based and UK-born.
2 also takes the necessary step of widening the musical palette of stoner rock somewhat by adding an Eastern sounding string section (famous sessioneer Gavin Wright has worked with Julian Cope, Page and Plant and many others), a surprisingly capable vocal section and an array of instrumentation that marks out The Kings Of Frog Island as innovators and traditionalists simultaneously.
Starting with the minute-long surreal declaration of independence that is “The Last Train” and ending with the twelve minute statement of purpose “Amphibia Rising”, the album rolls along like a freight train through the Sahara, running the gamut from dry dusty violin winds to headlong sections of doom-laden bass-end thrills.
In between, The Kings Of Frog Island have room for the Zeppelin-esque slide-blues of “The Watcher” and “Ride A Black Horse”, the prime Kyuss of “Hallucination”, the laid-back Black Crowes lo-fi of “Laid” and the Sabbath-like doom rock of “Witching Hour”. Chucking in references to Motorhead/Hawkwind (“The Watcher”) and Black Sabbath (“Welcome To The Void”) without covering the songs themselves is a respectful nod of the head that doesn’t get in the way of the band’s old/new aesthetic… although they’d probably baulk at the idea that they had an aesthetic.
“Joanne Marie” even manages the rare feat of producing a stoner rock love song that doesn’t sound either twee or sentimental – that’s got to be some kind of record in itself. And, God, I love those swirling, reaching-for-the-heavens, throaty slide guitar solos that pepper the album like fairy dust. Ally that to the speaker-melting bass throb of the rhythm section, and The Kings of Frog Island are a juggernaut of a band with one hand on the wheel, one hand holding a joint, one foot leaning on the accelerator and the other tapping in time to the music in the cab. This is the real stuff.
Look, here’s my reaction: I love 2 so much I’m going to search The Kings of Frog Island‘s debut album and buy it with my own money. That’s how impressed I am.
Review of III
This sounds like the album I’ve always wanted Queens Of The Stone Age to make. And that means it sounds like Wishbone Ash and The Groundhogs playing a festival on the island where the 1973 movie The Wicker Man takes place. The Kings of Frog Island are a collaboration between guitarist and producer Mark Buteux, R. "Doj" Watson and Mat Bethancourt, of the awesome band Josiah (R.I.P.). III is the third and final installment in a trilogy that began in 2005. I never heard the first two records but am now motivated to investigate them further.
I can just imagine Christopher Lee prancing around as Lord Summerisle to the opening song “In Memoriam” as tribal drums pound and a list of the deceased is read. Britt Ekland could also do her lascivious fertility dance to tempt the inspector to this song, too. “Glebe Street Whores” is in complete contrast to the opener with a Groundhogs boogie jam and distorted vocals. Nice one-two punch to start this thing.
“Bride Of Suicide” and “The Keeper Of…” are more in the Queens Of The Stone Age vein but a bit more psychedelic. Nice fuzzed out tones and swirly backwards guitar parts are held down to earth by hypnotic bass lines. “Dark On You” and “Ode To Baby Jane” are doomy but not Sabbathy. Depressing is probably a better description.
There’s probably a storyline here that I haven’t been able to figure out. Maybe if I get the first 2 volumes I’ll put the effort into figuring it all out but for right now I’m too busy blasting this one. I’m just glad The Ripple Boss gave me this one because this sounds like the type of thing that Pope and Racer would play at dawn on one of their epic California road trips. What do you say you fly me out west and we give it a test spin together?
-- Woody The Ripple Effect
Review of Long Live The King from IV
Here’s a phrase you won’t hear me use often: “Kyuss-worthy fuzz.” It’s that level of tonal gorgeousness that bleeds through in the work of Leicester, UK, outfit The Kings of Frog Island. Their second album, 2008′s aptly-titled II, is for my money one of the best desert rock albums ever to come from a place with no sand (though perhaps there is sand on Frog Island — I really should finish that geological survey), and though they veered more toward the garage rock end of things with the 2010 follow-up, III (review here), their latest work finds them at their most spaced-out yet, at least as far as the new video below for the song “Long Live the King” goes.
The reason I say that is because no single track ever really represents the whole album when it comes to The Kings of Frog Island — there’s something to be said for switching it up — but since the band was awesome enough to post on the forum the news of their forthcoming new album, Volume IV, and the departure of guitarist Mat Bethancourt, also of Cherry Choke and possibly still Dexter Jones Circus Orchestra, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bask in the warmth of “Long Live the King”‘s fuzzy sprawl.
And yeah, a lot of it’s about that tone, but the vocals here also rule (reminding me of Lamp of the Universe) and this band does more with a single cymbal wash than most do with an Orange full stack, so dig the tune and their words.
After Mat Bethancourt left to concentrate on Cherry Choke, the rest of the band retreated back into their natural habitat: the studio.
After 2 years locked in Amphibia, the new album is now in the can.
From our Friends at:
The Kings of Frog Island IV are:
Recoded at Amphibia sound studios II Leicester between the summers of 2010 and 2012.
Copyright and Produced by The Kings of Frog Island 2013.
Review of IV from the Obelisk
The aptly-titled fourth album by amorphous UK outfit The Kings of Frog Island marks a number of changes for the band. Foremost, IV is their first full-length without the contributions of guitarist/vocalist Mat Bethancourt of Josiah/Cherry Choke, and second, it’s their first album to be released not on Elektrohasch Schallplatten. Recorded at their own Amphibia Sound Studios II in Leicester over the course of the last couple years and released digitally to iTunes with a vinyl issue dependent on money raised through mp3 sales, the collection is also host to a few stylistic shifts in the band as well. Returning figures Mark Buteaux (vocals/guitar), Roger “Dodge” Watson (drums) and Gavin Searle are joined by Gavin Wright, Tony Heslop and a handful of guests – Ally Buteaux, Ian Piggin and Jim Robinson – and where their prior album, 2010’s III (review here), departed from the fuzz-soaked brilliance that arrived with 2008’s II (some of the finest British fuzz in the last 30 years, by my estimate), in favor of a more garage rock-sounding production – perhaps in part as a result of Bethancourt’s wandering interests; at least it’s easy to read it that way – IV makes an attempt to marry the varying sides of The Kings of Frog Island that have shown up over the course of the prior here albums and encapsulate the diversity of sound and mastery of flow that exist simultaneously in their work. To help accomplish this and aid in that flow, the 10 tracks of the 40-minute IV are presented as two evenly-divided vinyl sides (digitally, it’s two large files). Each clocks in at 20:19, with side A offering six individual cuts joined together as diverse jams and side B even more easy-flowing with four blissfully psychedelic pieces. Because it’s The Kings of Frog Island’s intention that IV should be taken as a whole, or at very least in halves, they’ve given a tracklisting so that each song can be identified, but for example, where “The Night Juno Died” ends and where “Weaving Shadows” begins at the start of side B is more or less up for grabs. I have it as where the drums kick in three minutes into the side, but really, you’re not supposed to know, and that winds up being part of the fun of the album.
I say “part,” because the bulk of IV’s appeal is the music itself. The Kings of Frog Island begin with a chime and a buzzsaw fuzz progression in “The Tenth Stone,” launching into one of the more driving stretches of the first side and the album as a whole, relying on an insistent rhythm and catchy chorus that does little to represent the full breadth of The Kings of Frog Island on their fourth studio outing, but engages nonetheless on an introductory level, vocals compressed, echoing and atmospheric as complemented by Ally Buteaux. The production on the whole doesn’t seem to be as loud as III, but the band works within their range to express a dynamic sensibility, moving from “The Tenth Stone” after about four and a half minutes in to “The King is Dead” with one of several transitional cymbal washes, keeping a quicker pace and desert-rocking chug to the guitar for (what seems like; again, all these separations are based on assumptions from listening) a brief instrumental that winds up in a synth line transitioning to “Witches Warning,” the first real showing on the record of the subdued side to The Kings of Frog Island’s sound. Soft, cooing vocals fade up while analog hiss, a quiet guitar line, snare vibes and bass carry a serenity that seems far removed from either “The King is Dead” or the opener yet still have come naturally from them. A spoken sample from Macbeth begins the transition to the more forward fuzz of “Volonte,” which features another choice chorus – perhaps the most memorable of IV – and a bassline pushing forward an instrumental swell that leads to a rich, fuzzy payoff. At 12:45, they move into the quieter “In the Watcher’s Blood,” which is kept in motion by the hi-hat and sampled birdsong, a wash of sunshine psychedelia in the guitar remaining peaceful despite, and side A wraps with “Shadowlands,” which is moodier in a classic and thoroughly British tradition, not nearly as directed toward upbeat fuzz rock as “Volonte” or “The Tenth Stone,” but emotionally affecting on a different level from everything else they here present, with contemplative plucked strings (ukulele maybe?) meeting a flange of electric guitar and accenting drum thud while the verse carries through to the more densely-layered chorus, another cymbal wash leading the way out of side A.
The Kings of Frog Island’s use of the cymbal wash, both as a transitional element and in general, is worthy of note, if only because they make it sound so damn beautiful. It could be that it’s a marker between the cuts on side A, or it could just be that I’m so taken by it that I’m using it as one. Either way, the fact remains that the band uses a cymbal wash effectively to elicit and earthy psychedelic feel in a way that fuzz, wah and reverb just can’t. Sure enough, a cymbal wash fades up side B with far-back guitars, and while, as I said earlier, I’m not completely clear on where “The Night Juno Died” ends and “Weaving Shadows” begins, the change in mood from side A to side B is palpable. IV takes a more patient, psychedelic turn, almost like quiet space rock, during a verse developing over the persistent drum line and resonant forward/backward guitar ambience. Seven minutes into the side, the guitars come forward for (what I believe to be) the start of “Eleven Eleven Eleven,” perhaps recorded Nov. 11, 2011, as basically a transitional solo drawn together by underlying ringing tones and the bassline to “Weaving Shadows,” but still part of a different movement. The difference is that unlike side A, which had breaks of silence between songs at least part of the time, there’s really nothing separating anything on side B, even as “Eleven Eleven Eleven” transitions into “Long Live the King” with just over 11 minutes to go – I wouldn’t even know where the closer begins except for the fact that the band released it as a video as a precursor to the album’s release. “Long Live the King,” at over 11 minutes, is the longest track on IV and takes up more than half of side B, but is a substantial achievement in more than just time, serving as the culmination for both the ambient psychedelia and the riff-rocking elements of the album without ever losing sight of the band’s organic sensibility or rich warmth of tone. I’ve said before that the vocals remind me of Lamp of the Universe, and that remains true on repeat listens to IV, but there’s more to the song than just that, the subtle swirl, low end depth and culminating wash building first and then coming apart to end the track and the album with vibing notes similar to that which started it. In essence, “Long Live the King” – both in answering “The King is Dead” and in drawing together the various aspects of The Kings of Frog Island’s sound – is a songwriting triumph for the band and the most singularly immersive moment on their fourth LP. As much as the band has ever had anything to prove, they did going into this record without Bethancourt, but they’ve emerged on IV with songs that maintain the band’s personality as they’ve presented it in the past while also expanding their reach without losing their sense of craft. It can take a little time to fully sink in over the course of the two 20-minute sections, but ultimately, IV provides a satisfying listen that intrigues even to its basic construction.
The Obelisk 2013