The Beginning Stages of…, the debut album from Dallas, Texas orchestral psych poppers The Polyphonic Spree is not as remembered now as it should be. Lest we forget, it’s an indie classic that holds up on a historical level in its own right, being the unmistakable twee-inspired sound of 2002. Yet, in 2013, with the Kickstarter-funded Yes, It’s True, the band has released another record that fits in with its output since that debut: never living up to its heights but still being worthy all the same.
Overall, on Yes, It’s True, The Polyphonic Spree offer some impressive restraint considering the band’s (once 22-person) size. Britpop-inspired opener You Don’t Know Me offers a melodic introduction to the many layers of Yes, It’s True, as lead singer Tim DeLaughter inspires his listeners when singing, “There’s always more to you than there are of them.” Yet, hiding his cheeseball vocals behind layers of orchestral swells, the track offers an introduction that’s catchy without making you roll your eyes at its grandeur. The straddling between big and too big continues with the album’s second track, Popular By Design, which is almost a musical extension of You Don’t Know Me: its pounding drums back more orchestral swells, panning synths, DeLaughter’s light, airy vocals, and a chorus of background singers that manage not to take you too far back to when, say, the cheerleader pop of The Go! Team was still musically relevant.
Sometimes, as on third track Hold Yourself Up, DeLaughter is a little too precious in his Sufjan Stevens-esque delivery, especially in conjunction with his backing cheerleader chorus, recalling Illinois’ The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts. Moreover, the flute-laden Let Them Be, which features DeLaughter waxing poetic about aquatic life, is simply too cutesy for its own good. Instead, on Yes, It’s True, The Polyphonic Spree succeed when they resist traditional pop constraints and instead become sort of like a weirder Passion Pit, one whose bubblegum choruses contrast the emotional roller coaster suggested by its rising and falling melodies. Carefully Try, for instance, features DeLaughter doing his best Wayne Coyne circa The Soft Bulletin impersonation; even if it perhaps reclaims the spirit of late ’90s and early Noughties Flaming Lips a little too faithfully, the track still has the power to evoke Race For The Prize-like chills and raise the hair on the back of the listener’s neck.
There are two outliers on Yes, It’s True: and they’re good ones. First, the charging, distorted power pop of What Would You Do is four and a half minutes of fuzzy guitars, a chorus full of high-pitched voices, and DeLaughter’s muted vocal performance, all which combine to allow the listener to bask in its fun-loving recklessness. The only really audible vocals on the song are variations of the question, “What would you do if I said I really needed you?”, a vague-enough, traditionally rhetorical, and ultimately forgettable pop song question to make you, again, only really concentrate on the music and forgive the lyrics for their lack of originality.
Lastly, the album ends with by far its longest track, the seven and a half minute Battlefield, which combines another Coyne-esque vocal performance from DeLaughter with a horns-and-piano-laden ’70s pop track that recalls some of Paul McCartney’s work. The squeaks, cracks, and general imperfections of DeLaughter’s voice let you know he takes himself about as seriously as the dudes from Foxygen, as his vocal performance calls to mind that of Foxygen’s Sam Francis’ on the schmaltzy Oh No 2. For their entire career, The Polyphonic Spree have succeeded not necessarily when they’ve sounded big, but when they’ve been the leader of the pack of the weird. Many of the tracks on Yes, It’s True suggest that the band is thankfully moving back in that direction.