[4 August 2013]
More than any Polyphonic Spree album preceding it, Yes, It’s True is characterized by time. Tim DeLaughter’s band was last seen in 2007 with a big-heated, politically tardy album called The Fragile Army, but all he has to show for the six years in between is a hatred of 2013. He spends his time preaching his way out of the now, bundling together reality and fantasy in an attempt to switch them over. Yes, It’s True breaks for an intermission after “CarefullyTry”, cutting to a DJ with a nostalgic sigh and the good old days beating in his heart: “Ah, yes! The sounds of the ‘70s from the Polyphonic Spree”, he says, inserting his new favorite band into the past. DeLaughter uses the DJ like a self-satisfying watermark, establishing his psych-rockers for time-traveling radio shows and important memories. Remember the Polyphonic Spree?
On “You’re Golden”, the morose song that follows, DeLaughter starts a fight in real time: “It’s not your Facebook likes / It’s not your Instagram pride.” It’s an evasive way to engage with the present, suggesting a distinct phobia of technology, but it also recalls his ruminations on war in 2007: name and negate something, and you will overcome it. DeLaughter has always been evasive in his confrontations. On The Fragile Army he rebranded the Spree, giving them an assaulting front against war, ironically deciding the best way to rock against it was in combat. But his gestures were vague: while the band ditched white robes for the darker side of monochrome, they became more the orchestra for an army than the real deal itself. Their songs were still for the optimist, “Get Up and Go” a self-help piece from citizen to soldier, “We Crawl” a tired, eye-rubbing piano ballad that survived among all the wrong-doing, and “Running Away” total fucking elation. The Fragile Army succeeded as a strong-willed test of the time, similar to the Flaming Lips’ cosmic protest on At War With the Mystics, an album released just as late in Bush’s tenure and with just as much enduring positivity.
The argument DeLaughter has with time is just one aspect of the sporadic Yes, It’s True. The album isn’t as collectively cut as its predecessor, drawing from DeLaughter’s shortlist of philosophies. He invokes Zen-like advice on “What Would You Do?” and “Hold Yourself Up”, acting as a ringleader of life coaches as he did way back when on Together We’re Heavy. The songs retread that territory with typical Spree tropes—lavish instrumental work and an often dominant backing choir—but come out with less space, loudly and claustrophobically reaching to the sky, mission statements captured somewhere in their murky middle. The Spree have always been great at ushering their listener in, bringing about a joy too tantalizing to mess up, which is largely down to immediate, three-word catchphrases (“You gotta be good! You gotta be strong!”)—but Yes, It’s True doesn’t have anything worthy of a shouting match.
DeLaughter is attached to the timeless nature of his motivational band. The Spree have the ability to translate love and TED-talk rhetoric for us in whatever time they travel to, and so even war is never a war. It explains why he wants to reject other quick fixes, and why he’d rather be in the ‘70s than right here: what do Facebook and Instagram have on music? “You’re Golden” seems to immediately debunk any alternative, leading from a minor-key piano ballad into a quietly enveloping symphony, finding a glimpse of perfection outside of the world’s current trivialities. It works because it’s so gently constructed, feeling eased of the weight of a twenty-odd collective, but for the most part Yes, It’s True feels like it needs that weight to stop it from being as bitterly dismissive as those social media jokes. Opener “You Don’t Know Me” continues the confrontation of The Fragile Army, finding DeLaughter in indictment mode; his positive energy exists in negative space, segregating the listener from the rest (“Don’t let them think that they know you! They don’t know!”). It’s an exhilarating song, but its power dissolves into accusations. The choir sends up an assured gang chant, but it sounds strained, too meek for the song’s threatening intentions.
Yes, It’s True is curiously suppressed, even at its loudest. The Spree are still self-reviving and totally cultish, but their quirks are used for songs like “Popular By Design”, backed with indie trope fare but only pragmatically. It sounds like it belongs on Rolling Blackouts, a cut utilizing switch-over tricks the way only a collective of this size can; the stars are the Spree’s choir, taking over from DeLaughter and hooking into the song with a simple, captivating chant that sounds sisterly to the Go! Team’s more hyper-active “Apollo Throwdown”. For the Spree, though, getting psyched feels so routine, as if they learned it by rote and don’t need to go over it again. “Popular By Design” never rises above its base level, its choruses rumbling along without the propulsion of a true, conducting optimist. That, at least, is a story of the past.
Since inception, DeLaughter has treated his band’s music as hard-woven tapestry, prefixed accordingly and written in chronological order. If there’s an album truly deserving of such reverence, though, it’s The Fragile Army, a vaguely political album that pointed his motivational life-coaching towards an actual problem. Yes, It’s True is sucked dry of reasons for its maxims, not affected enough to make them count, not stimulating enough to let them breathe. All DeLaughter is left with is this record of weak dos and strong don’ts. DeLaughter can live in the past, but he certainly can’t recreate it.