Posted by: Captain Easychord | September 20, 2009

Free Music Sunday: The Polyphonic Spree – Running Away

The Polyphonic Spree at Rams Head Live

The Polyphonic Spree at Ram's Head Live

The first two bands featured this month on Free Music Sunday typically performed with anywhere from six to eight members… and they’re both dwarfed by The Polyphonic Spree [m] [w].  Weighing in with a lineup of 23 musicians (including a six person choir, a horn section and a harpist), the band can assemble an impressively comprehensive sound by calling in a fluttering flute, a delicate violin or some bombastic extra percussion whenever the moment calls for it.

Once folks get over the size of the band, one of the first observations that many reviewers make is that the band is always so… happy.  And if you just listen to their iconic VW/iPod commercial hit, “Light And Day” (and, I suppose, this week’s featured track), maybe you would get that impression.  A closer inspection of the full catalog, however, reveals a much more complex dynamic at work.  In many cases, the sunny overtones that pervade the Spree’s music actually reflect a somewhat idealistic sense of optimism… a hopeful view that might help navigate life’s trials and tribulations no matter how mundane (ie:  most of The Beginning Stages Of…) or grandiose (ie: most of The Fragile Army).

Critics also gravitate to the Spree’s live performances, usually to make note that they all perform wearing robes.  Now when you have a big bunch of people making music with positive themes and, for live performances, dress them in robes… well, people are going to start thinking that you’re a cult.  And yeah, that’s where the reviews usually end up.

But to stop there shortchanges what is, without a doubt, the best live show I have ever seen.  Again, it comes back to the band’s size:  with 23 people on stage, the band members are almost literally bouncing off the walls as the full squad of ’em hits you with a wall of well-orchestrated high-energy noise.  Even if you’re not very familiar with the band’s catalog, they typically throw in a few familiar covers each show.  Plus, there’s occasional confetti.  What’s not to love?

“Running Away” is the leadoff track on the band’s most recent album, The Fragile Army. It really isn’t going to do much to dispell the notion that the Polyphonic Spree is a cult, but like the aforementioned “Light And Day,” it’ll make you smile on the inside and maybe you won’t mind even if they are a cult…  Drink the Kool-Aid, download Running Away from Stereogum and enjoy!

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