The Polyphonic Spree
Together We’re Heavy
f anything, The Polyphonic Spree should be talked about more often as a cult. My first exposure to the group was from a friend who would talk about them in hushed whispers, proudly displaying her button of the band whenever she would get the chance. As the gleefully idyllic and pastoral ensemble sprouted members from all directions with auditions and try-outs, the group presented a chance (or hope) for people to attach to. Not to mention the mythos behind the Spree’s founding—put together by Tim DeLaughter after Tripping Daisy guitarist Wes Berggren died of a drug overdose. But, in the end, it’s the results that count. And the group, or more appropriately pop-choir (with 24 regular members), have followed their debut, The Beginning Stages Of…, with the semi-under whelming continuation, Together We’re Heavy.
After festival hopping in England for the last two summers, having a major iPod/VW commercial feature “Light and Day” and a surreally animated Jim Carrey in the Michel Gondry-directed music video for “Reach for the Sun”, The Spree have attained a level of success not even the biggest Spree cultists would have imagined. With the surprising response to their debut, The Beginning Stages Of… (a set of promos recorded in three days), The Polyphonic Spree return with what could be considered their first proper album. An album that DeLaughter and company spent over a year recording and mixing in order to achieve “the real Polyphonic Spree experience.”
This “experience,” like much of indie-pop, follows in the footsteps of their 60’s brethren and results in a concept album (albeit with no singular story-line)—quite apt for what many consider a concept band. The concept is quite simple: Together We’re Heavy is a symphony of happiness. While DeLaughter has claimed the group’s ability to express a variety of emotions, Together instead is strictly intent on uplifting the listener. The sound builds just as much off The Beginning Stages Of… (with the song titles sequentially following the first album’s section-ed format) as well as adding a surprisingly deft sense of dynamics. Instead of the segregated airy doodling found in “Section 10” on The Beginning Stages Of…, the atmospherics ebb and flow throughout Together We’re Heavy. The integration makes every Godspell-like instrumental culmination hit with a greater force, taking religious hope and displacing it easily into secular joy.
However, the album feels overly reliant on DeLaughter. Perhaps the creative control of writing and producing the album makes his presence heavy handed. His voice, achieving the achingly elegant at the beginning of “Section 17 (Suitcase Calling)” is unfortunately bland throughout the rest of the record. From the un-expressive in “Section 13 (Diamonds/Mild Devotion to Majesty)” to painfully banal (and Wayne Coyne-biting) in “Section 14 (Two Thousand Places)”, the overly simple lyrics aren’t helped by DeLaughter’s intonations. Thankfully, the music overpowers DeLaughter’s weak voice.
The instrumentation on Together We’re Heavy is surprisingly audacious—from the jokingly 60’s swinging London mashed-up with the Sesame Street Theme on “Section 18 (Everything Starts at the Seam)” to the Dark Side of the Moon operatic introduction on “Section 17 (Suitcase Calling).” Everything feels unabashedly excessive. The Spree maintains the euphoria found on their first album and with every peak, valley and melodic reprisal the band searches out the bliss steeped in the tradition of symphonic-pop. But rather than the pocket-symphonies of Brian Wilson or Dave Friedman, the results feel somewhat mixed. As an explicit continuation, there doesn’t appear to be a strong sense of development from the first album, hinting that their studio recordings may never adequately encapsulate the band. Instead, Together We’re Heavy results in another tempting document to the band’s instantly legendary live performances.
Reviewed by: Nate De Young
Reviewed on: 2004-07-13