Pollywog (LP) by Phil Norby
Smooth and melodic throughout his debut album but wonderfully rough-edged in the emotional statements that require such a tone, Phil Norby’s vocal is reason enough to pick up Pollywog this spring. Comprised of songs like the introspective “Golden Years,” pulsating “Face in the Crowd,” stunningly soft “Pearls” and gutturally angst-ridden “Influencer,” Pollywog invites us into its arms with self-awareness only to turn into a commentarial showcase when we’re least expecting it to. There’s a sense of personality that shines through every stitch of audio here – from the instrumental “Encampment” to the blushing “Call Me Ishmael” – and among the greenhorn content I’ve had the chance to review in 2020, Phil Norby’s definitely ranks among some of the most well-rounded to come across my desk thus far.
There’s much more to this record than honeysweet vocals alone. Truth be told, some of the tracks here, like “Battle Cry Lullaby” and “Say “I Love You”” have as many instrumental complexities as they do sublimely personal lyrical content. I don’t get the impression from Norby that he has any interest in conveying his narratives through a single-channel format; if he did, he certainly wouldn’t be going out of his way to structure Pollywog with as complicated a fluidity as he did. There’s no pressing the stop button once you get started on this tracklist – Norby demands a reaction out of us around every turn, and whether intending to do so or not, winds up producing something that could be interpreted as both surreal and stately in the best ways possible.
“Until You’re Gone,” “Influencer” and “I’m Not That Man” have an angst-ridden singer/songwriter vibe that I would love to hear this artist explore with a little more gusto in future endeavors. One can’t help but think of Mark Lanegan’s style of delivery in these tracks (as opposed to his smoky vocal, which stands in strong contrast with the light glow of Norby’s singing here), as well as the lush sonic textures of Overwhelming Colorfast, who experimented with some of the same Americana influences in their own music at one point. Phil Norby has quite the intriguing tree of influences, and given a little more time in the spotlight, I think he’s going to share even more surprises with us through his poignant output.
If this debut LP is just a taste of what singer/songwriter Phil Norby has in store for listeners around the globe in the years to come, I will definitely be paying close attention to his work from here on out. Whether it be the fragile harmonies of “Long Goodbyes” or the crunch of “Say “I Love You”,” this is one record that really does have a little bit of everything packed inside its tracklist. There are a lot of interesting players coming out of the woodwork right now in the American underground, especially given the pandemic situation, but if you’re looking for some reliable rock n’ roll thunder, you really can’t go wrong with Pollywog and the talented artist responsible for its creation.