Return of the Frog Queen
As the frontman of the “emo” band Sunny Day Real Estate, Jeremy Enigk helped to create two classic albums—Diary and LP2—in the mid-1990s. After the band’s temporary breakup in 1995, however, Enigk created a classic of his own: the tragically obscure Return of the Frog Queen (1996). Here, Enigk abandons hardcore punk in favor of pop and folk music backed by a small chamber ensemble; and the results are both subtle and whimsical. The album owes more to Alice in Wonderland and The Beatles than it does to Rites of Spring.
From its title to its arrangement and its enigmatic lyrics, Return of the Frog Queen brings to mind a fairy tale. It is a careful balancing act of softness and edge, not only between tracks but within melodies, chord progressions and song structures. The album variously—and sometimes simultaneously—soothes and abrades. On “Explain”, overtop melancholy strings and guitar arpeggios, Enigk’s voice stretches from a high, poignant rasp into what might be called a beautiful scream; and one finds that the unique tension of the fairy tale has been captured in music.
The album is, in short, a small masterpiece. Yet, unlike the music of Sunny Day Real Estate, Return of the Frog Queen was and is largely invisible. It stood outside of every zeitgeist in the ’90s; it garnered little critical or commercial attention; and it exerted no influence on future music. Not even Enigk’s later solo recordings sound much like it. We at Still Eating Oranges hope to see the album get the recognition that it deserves. With that in mind, our readers may find selections from Return of the Frog Queen embedded after the break.
How we have progressed
As George Orwell’s famous maxim goes, “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past”. Unless one accepts the most bizarre and nihilistic conclusions of Nietzschean logic, one must grant at least a moderate version of Orwell’s point. Consider first that we are what we repeatedly do; and that our possible actions are limited by our environments. That is, one could not have become a film director in the 17th century. Further, our environments are, in large part, shaped by culture and tradition—by the ways of living and thinking that have been passed down to us via record and memory. The past, by way of culture and tradition, thus sets out most of our possible choices ahead of time. To give a concrete example, most Westerners are raised in the tradition of the three-act plot structure, which determines our options and thereby influences our future output.
Although this train of thought can lead to a kind of historical fatalism, we need not endorse such extremes in order to acknowledge common sense: we can only choose what is available to choose. Our understanding of the past shapes us, for good and for ill, by shaping our knowledge of what may be chosen. One of the more terrifying examples of this process in Nineteen Eighty-Four is the Newspeak project, by which the Party gradually removes the possibility of dissent from language itself. The omnipotent state remains an impossible fiction; but cruder siblings of Newspeak—related to body image and consumerism, for example—exercise an insidious control over the day-to-day lives of most Westerners. Perhaps the deadliest and most intractable of these is the idea of progress.