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By: Bogar Alonso
“Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is.” This wise rumination comes to us by the cunning of Sir Francis Bacon. And such statement captures what buddies/collaborators Devandra Banhart and Greg Rogove hoped to achieve by the guise of Megapuss and their recently released Surfing. This album, especially, is an attempt by them to quell said anxieties with humor. The two, along with Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti, certainly try to inundate themselves in droll efforts—including a half-minute appendage of a song (pun intended), “Mister Meat(Hot Rejection),” which is little more than a penis joke to music. But like that song, much of the humor falls flat, missing the butt of its own jokes.
Megapuss definitely appears at terms with what it is; you probably cannot pose with your ‘mister meat’ to the air without this being true. But it is when they choose to frolic in an aural nakedness that they really astound. Take the rainforest tinged To the Love Within. Its harmonies are simple and repetitive, but its lure is profound. One can’t help but chant along with the good graces of a chorus that is forever lost in a land of whistles and handclaps. “Theme from Hollywood” is another notable track. One even gets the impression that Hollywood just might be the realm of the happily-ever-after. The song seems pieced together from The Kinks and Donovan shavings (which of course is a sizeable compliment). On further inspection, however, I see little humor in either song. Or even in the seafaring “Crop Circle Jerk '94,” save for possibly the title. There are instances like “Duck People Duck Man” where the funny is able to combine with the musically sound to fine craft, but they are rare in this album. The concept of capturing the collective suffering of prejudice through the comics of a duck people is strong. Especially because they get a laugh or two out of you on initial listens. But the overbearing utterances of Trader Joe humus and bridge-crossing quickly stale. It is its finely fashioned instrumentation, reminiscent of an Andean ballad folk song, which is its saving grace. After making such observations, I wonder if maybe Megapuss would have benefited from scraping the ‘funny.’
I commend Megapuss for its bravery; their mission to create funny yet inspiring folk-rock is no easy task. In fact, their efforts should not be so quickly bashed for they do something bold: they do not take themselves too seriously. If there is a flaw in our current musical culture it is that most musicians do. Sure, Surfing is a flawed undertaking. “Chicken Titz,” for example, is almost deplorable in its lame try at echoing doo-wop. The album, although an endeavor in instilling the sense of summertime and enjoyment in its listeners, ends with four very somber tracks. “Older Lives” and “Another Mother” are solid works, but it flees my understanding why such an arrangement was chosen. The last tracks of an album are a postcard to listeners. They should leave us feeling the purposed intention. Yet the end of the album is at conflict with Megapuss’ mission. If they wanted joy and fun, end with that.
Surfing is by no means a pinnacle of music, but it’s a step in the right direction. Megapuss thought to console themselves with their humor, which is a good thing, except if it clashes with your music in the process—which it does here. Perhaps, they can achieve something seminal if they realize that having fun is a feat in itself. You do not need any phallic symbols to get a kick out of life (or music).