Frog Grog
Unified by its abundant lo-fi charm and with lyrics referencing the Butthole Surfers, Dexedrine, and Taco Bell, the squirrelly New York alt-country duo sounds more playfully idiosyncratic than ever.

For two people in a city of eight million, Frog garnered a respectable New York following in their early years. But the Queens alt-country duo found fandom—real fandom, where people queue to buy your music and the faces in the front row aren’t your longtime friends—overseas. Audio Antihero, a British boutique label that signed the band after discovering their 2013 debut record, boosted Frog enough to warrant a full-fledged UK tour before they ever plotted a regional U.S. leg.

Since then, Frog have spent the past decade enjoying life as a cult favorite. When not going for $250 on the resale market, their records draw comparisons to Townes Van Zandt and Silver Jews—fitting, as the late David Berman once wrote Frog a letter of admiration—while smudging the edges of barren indie rock, low-key emo, and hearty Americana. In the lead-up to Grog, the band’s fifth album and first in four years, their situation changed. Singer-guitarist Daniel Bateman moved to New Rochelle and welcomed twins, while longtime drummer-bassist Tom White moved to England and was replaced by Daniel’s brother Steve Bateman. The new album kicks off the band’s fraternal era, but Frog’s sound remains as squirrelly as ever.


Sounding as if they were still holed up in their parents’ garage playing for nobody but themselves, Daniel and Steve Bateman are all unbridled inspiration and freeform spontaneity, be it the last-minute glockenspiel in “Ur Still Mine” or the spectral piano haunting “Goes w/o Saying.” Their comfort with one another is audible. Daniel namedrops Butthole Surfers and Metro-North tickets with the tongue-in-cheek tone of someone fluent in the shared language of a sibling canon. When he opts for a more straightforward approach in “DOOM SONG,” a slog of discordant chords and ominous cymbal crashes, Daniel encourages his brother to cut loose: “Take pride, young bro/You should sing as in a dream/Stop the show, break a string.”


Daniel’s emotional delivery has always been one of Frog’s strongest assets, and that still holds true with Grog. On “Maybelline,” he sings about a Dexedrine-dosed woman in a car crash like he’s pouring one out for someone he’s known all his life. He injects “New Ro,” an ode to his new hometown, with vocal harmonies to match the retro romance of his banjo plucks. As if the simplicity of how he sings the love song “So Twisted Fate” wasn’t enough, it evolves into a voice note of his children attempting to sing while a synth chord morphs into focus. There’s no exact science to Daniel’s singing, but his untrained voice has a purity that’s difficult to fake and moving to hear.

Grog’s tracklist may appear scattered; in reality, it reflects a newfound confidence. His brother’s influence affords Daniel the conviction necessary to see more varied ideas through, even if they deviate from Frog’s alt-Americana tag. “420!!” is an extrapolation of Animal Collective’s “College” in sound and sentiment; Daniel romanticizes cutting class for Taco Bell and questions the purpose of school en route. His hasty acoustic strumming pantomimes a cartoon dog following the visible scent of a Crunchwrap Supreme, his gait giddy and liberated. On “U Shud Go 2 Me,” he amplifies drums and bass over his own guitar work, an unexpected mix that proves to be the right focus come its end, mimicking his lyrical fixation on creeping insanity as it nears a breaking point. Even the most out-of-place track, “Black on Black on Black,” still fits within Frog’s aesthetic, despite its blues-rock spin on disco. The brothers recorded the song with the same 1979 Otari MX5050 tape machine from Count Bateman, originally purchased because Elliott Smith used that exact model, and it lends the single a hissing warmth and lo-fi charm that unifies Grog.

The record opens with a 20-second exposition about the album’s namesake, a sailors’ term for diluted rum rations, lifted from a YouTube explainer by 18th-century obsessive Townsends. The album originally featured additional samples from American Movie, the 1999 documentary-turned-cult film cherished for its depiction of DIY passion amid setbacks and a creeping sense of failure, but the band scrapped them in fear of licensing troubles. Listen closely, however, and you can hear those themes take shape in a different configuration; Daniel’s humdrum American portraiture and embodiment of passionate persistence have defined Frog’s sound for nearly a decade, and on Grog, a brotherly bond encourages those songwriting traits to get louder, bolder, and weirder without sacrificing any of the heart.

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