Why should you go see The Polyphonic Spree live? Bandleader Tim DeLaughter actually poses the question himself via a statement posted on the band's website, before offering a laundry list of reasons. For starters, you might find 20 bucks. DeLaughter promises to drop a $20 bill on the ground near the bar of each venue for some unwitting recipient to find, much as he found $5 at a Willie Nelson/Jerry Jeff Walker show — his first concert, in fact — as an 8-year old. It isn't clear whether he's being serious, but you never know. Orchestrated goodwill is, after all, The Polyphonic Spree's stock in trade. Still, a more pertinent question might be this: Why is the Dallas-based choral rock ensemble touring now, with only two new songs in the five years since their last album?
"WHY NOT???" DeLaughter writes in all-caps via e-mail, this time responding to an actual question from the Scene. "Does there have to be this big reason or this formulated guide on when and why and how?"
"The answer," he continues, just in case it's not clear where he's going with this, "is NO."
He has a point. As the music industry continues to convulse around the issue of how to sell albums, DeLaughter has essentially decided to chuck the album out the window. And if you happen to be standing under that window, you'll find yourself in a splendid downpour of sound, color and vinyl at least as rewarding as anything else $20 can buy. Like a kind of Willy Wonka-type figure, DeLaughter is ushering us back to the pre-Sgt. Pepper's period, when individual songs formed the backbone of listening. And he's doing it in style, offering audiences something to hold in their hands while also creating an aesthetically hospitable digital environment.
As far as DeLaughter is concerned, the album as we know it is more serviceable as a voluntary option rather than the standard around which all creative and commercial activity must revolve. In the case of The Polyphonic Spree and several of the other acts on his label Good Records, DeLaughter's plan for the immediate and foreseeable future consists of releasing singles. There is, in fact, no Polyphonic Spree full-length in the works, he explains, but that doesn't mean the group isn't working on material. It just means that the new stuff isn't being conceived within the framework of an eventual running order. How songs relate to each other remains to be seen and, for now, is being left up to chance and creative whim. It doesn't even matter if the songs relate to each other at all.
"The beauty of releasing a song at a time," offers DeLaughter, "is that I'm not necessarily locked into a scope of work that determines my 'creative direction.' "
Down the road, he stresses, if the Polyphonic Spree feels inclined to assemble its new/in-progress work as an album, it will. And that's that. In other cases, though, DeLaughter is tossing albums out the window in a more literal sense. May 29 sees the official release of Rubble Guts and B.B. Eye, the debut full-length by Preteen Zenith, DeLaughter's impressionist collaboration with former Tripping Daisy bandmate Phil Karnats. For Record Store Day in April, the label shipped a limited-edition run of individually decorated vinyl platters, each an explosion of color unto itself. In the packaging alone, that release tells you everything you need to know about the Good Records MO.
Each new song on the slate is available as a vinyl 7-inch, and each comes with a surprise untitled B-side. In turn, each of the label's seven artists is encouraged to pair the music with a video, because, as DeLaughter puts it, "We'd like the experience of listening to be more interesting for you than watching a mundane line move slowly to the right." This latter stipulation would barely warrant mention if it weren't for the level of effort and imagination — not to mention color — these videos convey.
Among the most striking is the video for the new Polyphonic Spree number "Bullseye," a radiant, heartstring-tugging animation created by Louisiana-based multimedia art firm Moonbot Studios. With its ethereal liftoff midsection and message of universal empathy drawn delicately in the simple phrase "You are me," the song certainly improves on the ham-fisted optimism of the band's prior work. But taken together, the video and the music make for a popcorn-worthy event. As households once gathered to enjoy radio broadcasts, the Good Records site contains much to share in the company of others. If this is what the decline of the album looks like, we might be on the right track after all.
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