There’s a curious atmosphere present on GROG, the latest album from New York’s Frog. On a first listen, you groove along to “Black on Black on Black,” you smile at the seemingly lighthearted bluegrass-influenced track “420!!,” you perk up immediately when you hear that opening hook to “Maybelline.” It sounds like the soundtrack to an offbeat independent romantic comedy, scoring scenes of Michael Cera falling in love.
But there’s something more sinister lurking in these songs. This is more than an off-beat indie oddity – there’s an uncanny melancholy throughout that’s difficult to place. You can catch glimpses of it on a first listen: “DOOM SONG” has a haunting sourness, and the album closer “Gone Back to Stanford” is an obviously somber song about loss of innocence and displacement.
But like, this album opens with a silly pitched-down sample of a YouTube tutorial for the drink “grog.” How sad can this really be?
There’s so much going on with these songs’ compositions that you almost have to return to it so you can unpack all the various flourishes and genre-influences. Each track is a surprise to hear unfold – sometimes you’ll get Ben Folds Five-esque pop rock amidst the Americana, sometimes you’ll hear a funk groove, and other times you get glimpses of Hall & Oates or Warren Zevon.
And after listening to the album multiple times, more emotional intricacies start to reveal themselves. GROG stops feeling like the soundtrack to a quirky indie movie and more like the soundtrack of a hellish Claymation film.
It wasn’t surprising to read singer Daniel Bateman describe it as “gothic” and “cartoonish.” A track like “Maybelline” exemplifies this vibe best. The upbeat hook gives way to the darker chorus of, “Yes, yes, they fucked it up, they died / They left him dead on a hillside,” before seamlessly looping back around to that bouncy twang.
Regardless of a song’s subject matter – death, weed, aimlessness, regret, whatever – the music always manages to evoke an uplifting floaty feeling. Not a happy feeling, per se, but an open and sweeping feeling that’s simultaneously paired with a crushing loneliness. There’s an acknowledgement on GROG that life is hard and always will be. But it’s all good – there will still be synth ditties to dance along to. “You’re gonna die, and yeah, it’s cool.”
Even on the more obviously sad songs – like the previously mentioned “Gone Back to Stanford” – there are moments that only really hit me after a few listens. The song immediately cemented itself as being my favorite on the album thanks to its lilting alt-country melody, and the beauty of that soaring bridge. And after hearing the story of a disillusioned college girl multiple times, the outro (“Born in a manger/going home with a stranger”) started to make me cry. Something about the song (a song I already really liked!) fully clicked with me after piecing all the storytelling together on repeat listens.
The eerie, uncanny sadness of GROG only grew on me after all these relistens, never once thinning out. But the levity never quite thins out, either.