Defined by its robust string play as frequently as it is a soft-spoken lead singer who isn’t afraid to bear it all to the audience, Phil Norby’s Pollywog is not your standard singer/songwriter debut. An alternative opus disguised as a collection of heartland rock songs seemingly from a bygone era, Pollywog is at first inaccessible to the self-centered listener – its story is personal, intimate and from the heart of Norby himself. There’s a lot of intensity in the guitar-oriented tracks, such as “Influencer,” the instrumental “Encampment,” “Say “I Love You”,” and the surprisingly strong acoustic number “Pearls,” but never any overindulgence in the riffing. Verses tend to feel like the main focus from one song to the next, but if you think this is a player who follows but one formula in an album, you’re in for quite the surprise upon listening to the eleven-track collection included here. Phil Norby might be a relative unknown to most of the world right now, but with the kind of chops that he’s showing off in this superb debut, I don’t see that narrative remaining unchanged at all.
“Face in the Crowd,” “I’m Not That Man,” “Battle Cry Lullaby” and “Long Goodbyes,” the album opener, are all about vocal supremacy in the grander scheme of things, but they aren’t lacking in instrumental muscle at all. On the contrary, I would definitely say that there isn’t any content on this LP that feels halfhearted, scattered or unfinished at all. There’s a lot of unfiltered emotionality in all of the music contained within Pollywog, with moments in “Golden Years” and “Until Your Gone” feeling more like excerpts from a private diary entry than anything I would expect to hear in a new pop/rock record.
This isn’t to say that Norby’s open vulnerabilities aren’t attractive (the exact opposite is true), but simply to acknowledge how refreshing an approach his is at this juncture in the history of alternative music. There isn’t a lot of polish on the guitars in “Face in the Crowd” or “Call Me Ishmael,” and there doesn’t need to be; he isn’t making a play for a classic grunge sound, but instead allowing for his passion to be on his sleeve, unaltered by the production bells and whistles his contemporaries would just as soon depend on.
Unlike most of the rookies that I’ve reviewed in the last five months, Phil Norby is boasting a professional swagger in his virgin outing that tells me he’s going to go a long ways in this business. A lot sooner than later, Norby’s self-contained chaos and lyrical exhibitionism is going to catch on with a generation denied those precise attributes among their singer/songwriters and melodic rappers. This is an artist who has the ability to make a serious impact on an audience literally desperate for a change of pace as we enter this new decade and the emergent pop culture it will inevitably produce. Pollywog feels like an album from the future in this sense, and I’m definitely happy it’s available this spring.
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