At full strength, the Polyphonic Spree number twenty-something members strong and typically wear robes while they perform their unique brand of symphonic pop music. You may remember the Spree from their big 2002 hit “Light and Day/Reach For the Sun”, which was used in a joint iPod/Volkswagen commercial, an episode of “Scrubs”, the longest-running ad campaign in UK history, and more recently, from the movie trailer for The Lorax.
The success of “Light and Day” opened a lot of doors for this highly unusual band. The downside is that when you have twenty-something people all wearing robes and singing uplifting songs about the sun, you’re on the fast track to being branded as a blissed-out, ambiguously religious hippie cult, somewhat akin to Up With People on acid.
The associations are particularly unfortunate because none of them are really appropriate. Frontman Tim DeLaughter assembled the Spree in the wake of former Tripping Daisy bandmate, Wes Beggren’s drug overdose, so whatever good vibrations the band may convey are surely not suggestive of the chemically-assisted variety. Many of the band’s songs aren’t even about “being happy” in the present either. In fact, much of their music is about overcoming the bad times, whether it’s Beggren’s death or just the trials and tribulations of everyday life. Although uplifting themes, optimism and a steady reminder that the good things can help us navigate life’s rough patches are central themes to so much of their work, there’s definitely nothing particularly “religious” about the Spree’s music either.
What you do get is a huge wall of sound, intricately constructed with layers of strings, horns, percussion and a dedicated choir section. Sonically, there’s a lot going on to back up Tim DeLaughter’s charismatic presentation of lyrics whose simplicity serves as a point of emphasis, adding weight and power.
For me, the Polyphonic Spree hit on a lot of musical themes that make me really like a song or a band: layered and varied instrumentation, uptempo music, and upbeat songs that make you want to sing along. The Spree’s recurrent themes of overcoming hardship have particularly resonated with me over the last several years, so it should be no surprise that they’ve been among, if not atop the list of my singular favorite artists over the past decade.
I’m Calling – The Polyphonic Spree