Featured Music: Wednesday, July 28 2004
Heavy Sunshine

Reports of Polyphonic Spree’s optimism are exaggerated.


For the Polyphonic Spree’s critics, it’s all spectacle. With 20-plus ceaselessly optimistic band members dressed in flowing robes, you can see why. Their “image’ initially got more press than their music, sunshine pop that could occasionally be equally saccharine. “Soldier Girl,” the band’s first single (from the 2001 debut, The Beginning Stages Of ...), is a repetitious ditty with a nonsensical three-sentence lyric cooed repeatedly to a medley of horns, synthesizers, drums, guitars, pianos, percussion, and then some. Power in numbers prevailed, but the song itself had little to say.

Compare that to the group’s sophomore effort, the recently released Together We’re Heavy. Recorded over 18 months in Dallas, Los Angeles, and Argyle, Texas, in between tours of the states, Europe, and Japan, it lives up to its title. Also, consider the eight-week ordeal that tracking alone took. It wasn’t easy mixing instruments as diverse as guitar and flute, harp and theremin.

This all makes for something more sonically sensational than the band’s first effort. The dancing piccolo from “Mild Devotion to Majesty,” the confident chorus behind “Hold Me Now,” the traces of horns from “We Sound Amazed” — they all fit perfectly with their surroundings, nestled amidst intricate instrumentation without calling needless attention to their individual brilliance.

The Spree’s message is also more satisfying. “We’re now a band that knows each other’s last names, whereas before we hardly knew each other,” said frontman Tim DeLaughter with a chuckle. “Now we have a band that’s musically all on the same page, and we really have made a significant connection, and it truly shows in the songs in the depth and the emotion that’s happening.”

Optimism still rules, but it’s leavened by realism. The chorus gets downright angry on “A Long Day Continued” (with the group screaming in unison the shrill line “Take them all together and shove them off!”). And the haunting amalgamation of somber instrumentation, chant, and whispered narration on “Together We’re Heavy” creates the group’s most dynamically different — and perhaps powerful — orchestration.

“I think the whole happiness vibe is extremely overblown,” said Polyphonic Spree multi-instrumentalist James Reimer, a TCU grad and former Weekly writer. “There’s a lot of angst and melancholy in this band.”

Said DeLaughter: “It’s no cakewalk being in this band. There’s a lot of compromises to do what we’re doing. It’s a lot of work.”

The labor seems to be paying off. Just this past March, “Light and Day” was featured in the Jim Carrey vehicle Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. (In the music video, Carrey even sings along to the words, thanks to some digital tampering by directing maestro Michel Gondry.) Two months later, the band toured with David Bowie. Together is garnering good reviews, and another tour has begun. Not bad for a band that couldn’t get many gigs in Dallas four years ago, only to be “discovered” a year later in London and then revered here as hometown heroes.

“I was just trying to make a sound, and this is something that happened when people get together and we start playing this music and everybody’s kind of interpreting their feelings or being excited about what we’re doing,” said DeLaughter. “We’ve really evolved into this little Polyphonic Spree movement going on here.”

Catch the Polyphonic Spree on The Late Show With David Letterman, on Channel 11, Aug. 27. l

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