Album Review: Frog Legs – ‘It’s Been A Hard Year’
Posted: by The Editor
More than a complaint or call for pity, the title of Frog Legs’ It’s Been A Hard Year feels like an exclamation of relief—both in the sense that the admittance can be relieving in itself and also that, while it’s been a hard year, that hard year is now over, leading to the possibility that things could get better (and if they don’t, what the fuck can you do about it?). The record is truly transformative, taking that hard year full of questions (“is there romance in the fact that politicians want us dead?”), doubts (“maybe I’m an idiot / it didn’t mean that much to you”), and musings (“all I want is to be useful / all I want is to be used”), and allowing them to bubble in a mental crucible until something joyous and beautiful rises to the top.
Throughout the record, the instrumentals echo vocalist Nano’s journey, with the opening tracks kicking things off in a frenzied, raucous way. It’s the stunning “Livestock,” however, that brings the record’s underlying strains of thought into focus. A sparse waltz, the track begins with Nano reflecting “there’s a rest stop / somewhere in Pennsylvania / and you don’t know which bathroom to enter / you can choose / to be preyed on / or you can hope that they will not make you the predator / what if you embarrass them / they will make your body the problem / aren’t we tired?” overtop a gentle acoustic pattern that draws the spotlight to the lyrics. It’s a blending of the personal and political that doesn’t come naturally, but rather is imposed by the deranged bigots and evil politicians forcing the political on the minutest details of people’s personal lives. The second verse goes on to recall a crooked-toothed man at a market politely asking “some impolite questions / like why aren’t you smiling / and what do you have in your jeans,” all leading to the grisly image of being “livestock in America’s eyes,” only “a short power trip away from the slaughterhouse.”
“End of an Era” is a song of transformation and transmutation, taking the image of livestock being drained and alchemizing into something that isn’t quite hope, but rather that first burst of energy that comes after months of mental isolation. There’s a marked change in the instrumentals at the turn of the third verse, with Nano picking up on the energy as they deliver “2 months later and I’m fucked up at the show / got your ticket but I don’t remember seeing you / spent an hour in the dorm, putting my eyeliner on / I felt pretty without anyone else / screaming songs I didn’t know / sweating glitter into gold / alchemy of bruising skin becoming chrysalis” before background vocals join for the joyous “I was so afraid to ever leave the house / now I’m begging for a reason to go out / getting hurt and falling in love with everyone / I trip so much: I never walk I run.”
The sunny feeling that comes through as “End of an Era” progresses works as the catalyst for the killer run of tracks that follow. The only tune released prior to It’s Been A Hard Year—and the track with the greatest feeling of levity here—“The Worst McDonald’s Ever (Pts. 1 & 2)” is an infectious pavement-pounder packed with standout lines like “the future’s predetermined and it wants to fuck with you / it’s just hard to face the fact that there is nothing we can do,” “I like taking stimulants for my ADHD / fill my head with punk rock daydreams / screaming “pirates life for me!” and “I don’t think I’m a bad person I just think about bad things / I just hope they finally leave me when my mouth opens to sing.” The band kicks into another gear after a verse about the cops getting called with the addition of electric guitar, and by the time they get to the statement “sometimes bad things happen just because,” it feels more like a moment of triumph than anywhere else up to this point on the record.
A clever expectations-versus-reality track, “Fear and Loathing in South Oakland” cranks the energy up another gear to the point where you wonder if Frog Legs are going to thrash their way to the end of the record as Nano relates a crush to another subject of their infatuation, “like anarchy and great tv and, getting high,” only to come to realize “this pessimism is getting me nowhere / oh I know / I care for you like primetime tv / and brushing up on Emma Goldman.” It’s a quicker tune that feels like a fun diversion before “Chess St.”—a massive track that organically builds as Nano grinds through the slow work and acceptance of the everyday. “Chess St.” opens with a sweaty 90-degree day in Pittsburgh and the thought “I never shave my legs / but I hate to see them hairy / so I just don’t wear shorts / cause the thought of it is scary / that I have to put in work / to be the person I’ve been dreaming of.” As the intensity of the tune builds, the introduction of a slide guitar line serves as a turning point leading into the double-time final verse of “for once I’m smoking on my own front porch / I think I could start to learn to treat my body like a temple / not a dorm room / and my friends and I will / lay down on my couch / take your shoes off in my house / this can be a place where we can get some rest.”
There’s a bit of a sense of doubling at this point on It’s Been A Hard Year, with “Chess St.” feeling like an echo of the transformative “End of an Era” and the swaying “Moth Song” seeming to mirror “Livestock.” Pulling things back tempo-wise, “Moth Song” uses some tremolos from the mandolin and a badass guitar solo that wouldn’t sound out of place drenched in pink and blue neons in a Michael Mann film to form the backdrop for the notion “and the people watch me fly / if I give them something to talk about maybe I’ll never die / and the people watch me trip / the more I get shocked by the lightbulb / the more likely they are to tip.”
It’s Been A Hard Year ends with an appropriately wild, go-for-broke closer “Pt. 3.” The tune is explosive instrumentally and expansive lyrically, feeling like a final look back on the titular hard year. When the band hits the repetition of “it’s gonna be alright / it’s gonna be ok” before flipping to “and if it isn’t / if it isn’t / what the fuck can I do about it / guess I’ll try again next year,” the feeling is far from an admittance of defeat or an embrace of blackpill nihilism. Instead it’s the freedom that comes from the realization that the world doesn’t hang on your shoulders and really the only thing you can do is work on yourself, which is the actual difficult work that needs doing before anything can be done about “global politics” and “impending doom.”
Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal
Aaron Eisenreich | @slobboyreject
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