Even if its two dozen members weren't always smiling, it'd be hard to dislike The Polyphonic Spree. Born from the ashes of Tripping Daisy, the gown-clad act looks like a friendly cult and sounds like The Flaming Lips might if, after gobbling all that LSD, the group's members had joined a Texas church choir. The Spree makes music with grandiose ambition and unbridled optimism, and in 2002, it released a 10-track demo that became a cult item and then an indie hit, then got picked up by a major label, then ended up in commercials. It was hopefully and presciently titled The Beginning Stages Of The Polyphonic Spree.
Together We're Heavy takes a page from The Roots' playbook, beginning the track listing with "Section 11" as if Beginning Stages had never ended. It sounds that way in other respects, as well: The disc traffics in the same densely layered, celebratory, expansive, gospel-inspired psychedelia as its predecessor. But what other music can be made with a small orchestra, a choir, and a need to make listeners feel like they live in a happier, more wonderful world? Is it possible to build on a sound that's already reaching for the sky? Mastermind Tim DeLaughter here aims to create 10 tracks of rapturous noise. It's a fool's goal, but even when he falls short, he should be admired for trying. When he gets to where he's going, the results inspire awe.
That awe comes particularly easily with the album's first two tracks. "Section 11 (A Long Day Continues/We Sound Amazed)" builds slowly in sound and sentiment, with DeLaughter singing about wanting "to be more than yesterday" until the thought seems to make the music behind him explode. "Section 12 (Hold Me Now)" clocks in at an economical (by Spree standards) four and a half minutes, and channels the same explosiveness and urgent need for spiritual reinvention into a song that could almost pass for pop.
The problem with rapture is that it's exhausting, so Together is best enjoyed a few tracks at a time. DeLaughter can't always keep up the mood, in part because his sonic ambition outstrips his studio technology, and in part because it's hard to sustain the feeling of an almost religious musical experience for the length of an album. But The Polyphonic Spree's collective heart is clearly in the right place. Even when DeLaughter hits a wide-eyed line like "It's the coolest water slide," there's no doubt that he means it, and that he wants his listeners to feel just how cool that water slide is as they follow him into the deep end.