The Polyphonic Spree – Reflecting on the 20th Anniversary of “The Beginning Stages of…” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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The Polyphonic Spree – Reflecting on the 20th Anniversary of “The Beginning Stages of…”

The Album First Came Out on May 2, 2002

May 02, 2022
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What exactly is The Polyphonic Spree? Over the years, speculation has surrounded the Dallas-founded robed choral ensemble led by ex-Tripping Daisy frontman Tim DeLaughter. Some will claim that The Polyphonic Spree is a way of life and state of mind, others that the organization is some sort of commune or cult. In reality, however, The Polyphonic Spree is a revolving door of skilled musicians with whom DeLaughter collaborates in developing utterly enchanting paisley-patterned neo-psychedelic prog pop hymns as few others can. The ensemble, whose current lineup consists of 25 members, once served as fertile creative ground for successful former affiliates St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) and Brian Teasley. The history of Texas indie and its related offshoots seems wrapped within each member’s robe, every song they record deeply indebted to its region of origin. In this respect, one may classify The Polyphonic Spree as a sort of ’00s cultural phenomenon, the sonic embodiment of several Texan cities’ worth of indie kids and the dreams they sing.

The group’s debut album The Beginning Stages of… introduced the audience to a post-Tripping Daisy DeLaughter: an elevated pop visionary whose mind had since begun orbiting the same blue surfer moon around which Brian Wilson’s tangled psyche once wound itself decades prior. Upon its emergence, The Polyphonic Spree was making deliciously rich baroque noise, pairing it with the lean indie sensibilities of its scene. Opening track “Have a Day/Celebratory” comes on draped in strings, its lively piano meandering through until the sound of twinkling fairy dust introduces DeLaughter’s distinctive vocals, singing, “Have a day, celebrate/Soon you’ll find the answer.” Soon enough, the track explodes into a choral expression of psychic bliss, the group coming together to form a single otherworldly entity of pop pleasure and desire.

Subsequently, “It’s the Sun,” a standout and one of the album’s two familiar inclusions on the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack, channels The 5th Dimension in its announcement, “Hey, now, it’s the sun, and it makes me smile all around.” The dreamy “Days Like This Keep Me Warm” and acid-maimed Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass homage “La La” also stand as key entries, the group’s performances meticulously realized. The fuzzy “Middle of the Day” arrives wrapped in wisps of pink mist, every spirit of the forest since summoned, rising from within the logs around you. As demonstrated, The Beginning Stages of… can be both childlike in its pop purity and nightmarish in its more avant-garde leanings, some of which bear a paranormal sense of absurdity. Perhaps this is The Polyphonic Spree’s ultimate appeal—its ability to be comprehended on such a visceral level, its jubilee as real as its bad trip terror.

“Hanging Around the Day Pt. 1” is an atmospheric instrumental, which carries the listener deeper into the group’s fold, with DeLaughter emerging to do his best Wayne Coyne impersonation on “Hanging Around the Day Pt. 2.” Elsewhere, the spacey “Soldier Girl” returns to the radiance of the album’s central tracks, before giving way to the emergence of “Light and Day/Reach for the Sun,” its finest cut, and one of The Polyphonic Spree’s greatest accomplishments as a group. Last, but not least, sprawling “A Long Day” closes the album, its vast 36+ minute length encompassing a wealth of sounds—from disembodied voices to buzzing drones, sighs, moans, and ambient noise. The utterly bizarre nature of this closing track feels somehow appropriate, as though a day in the life of The Polyphonic Spree is literally passing us by.

The group has been running strong for over two decades, with 2004’s Together We’re Heavy and 2007’s The Fragile Army standing among its finest offerings. DeLaughter and company haven’t lost their bombastic pop vision of love, sunshine, and unity, making their music all the more significant two decades on. The Beginning Stages of… is an intriguing release and likely has something to offer everyone. So gear up, plug in, and let its heavy pop transcendence pry your mind’s eye open just enough to glimpse the blinding revelation of its glow.

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