The Polyphonic Spree
Good news in our inbox this week: The Polyphonic Spree are back! It’s been four years since we last heard from the world’s largest, most cult-like symphonic indie rock band and frankly, we’ve missed them. Well, I have. Jake thinks they sound like a bad combination of the Flaming Lips and Hair—to which I say, how could any combination of those two things possibly be bad?
By now the Spree’s backstory is familiar to most: Started in Dallas in 2000 by lead singer Tim DeLaughter and his wife, Julie Doyle (who never gets any credit, but should—she manages the band, sings in the choir and co-writes much of their material with DeLaughter), the Polyphonic Spree rose from the ashes of DeLaughter’s previous band, Tripping Daisy, which broke up following the drug-related death of their guitarist, Wes Berggren. DeLaughter fell into a deep depression following his friend’s death, but worked his way out of that dark period in part by crafting the Spree’s euphoric, celebratory sound. He and Doyle also wanted to make something more epic and orchestral than a typical indie rock act—and to get the sound they wanted, the band’s membership eventually swelled to over 20 people. Then, as a final touch, DeLaughter decided to have everyone don white robes like some kind of hippie church choir.
These days, lots of bands do the whole cram-lotsa-people-onstage and have them run around playing cellos and glockenspiels and other instruments you don’t normally associate with a rock act. But the Spree stand out for a couple reasons. For one, they were really the first band in the modern era to do this sort of thing. Arcade Fire, Beirut, Edward Sharpe—none of them existed back in 2002 when the Polyphonic Spree released their first album, The Beginning Stages of…. Secondly, it’s hard to name another band, symphonic or otherwise, with an ouevre as specific as the Spree’s. Pretty much every track on their first two albums sounded like a cross between “Let the Sun Shine In” and the last three minutes of “Hey Jude.”
The Spree did go a bit darker for their third album, The Fragile Army—and they donned matching black, military-style uniforms for the promo photos and tour—but even that one ended with a feel-good rave-up called “The Championship.” Well, technically it was called “Section 32 (The Championship),” because all of their songs are “sections” of a complete, larger work.
(By the way, since we’re talking about the Spree in terms of their weirdness, I should also mention that one of their songs, “Section 10 (A Long Day),” is just 36 minutes of looped, processed vocal tones, like Philip Glass after one too many shroom caps. So there’s that.)
We’re still not sure what DeLaughter and company have in store for their next album, but they just released the album’s first single. Sort of. The song, “Bullseye,” is only available as part of an iPad app, which also features an interactive, animated video. You can see/hear a preview of the app and the song on the Polyphonic Spree website. Jake and I aren’t cool enough to own iPads yet, so if anyone downloads the app, please give us a report. It’ll set you back a mere $1.99.
Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with my all-time favorite Polyphonic Spree moment. Needless to say, this is one of those bands that really has to be seen live to be fully appreciated—the sheer, overwhelming sonic assault of all those voices and instruments bashing away at DeLaughter’s happy-happy anthems is like a tent revival for hipsters. But as great as some of those anthems are, none of them tops the Spree’s insanely awesome cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium.” Kurt Cobain would have approved—yes, even the bit with the harp.