Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Terrordactyls - s/t

If there's anything to say about the state of Washington, it's that outside of Seattle, and perhaps Bill Gates' house, there's not much exciting culture in its western half to balance out abundances of bright grass, grey clouds, rainwater, seawater, and poorly-paved roads. Unless you're in Tacoma, in which case there's all of the above plus Hi-Voltage Records, one of the best record stores on the west coast. But drive up and down I-5 and you'll see a mild range of life, from the small shop up north selling seasonal tulips to a run-down smattering of houses down in Vancouver.

The musical method of Washington is sort of an audible representation of the state – even if “scene” usually comes to mean “Seattle” or “Olympia,” and thus literate liberals in thick glasses or a small cluster of indie rockers attempting to duke it out with a population of old conservatives living under Support Our Troops signs. But the Terrordactyls, while originally half-based in Baltimore, as word has it, met up on Vashon Island, a small community where your business is your neighbor's business.

Michael Cadiz and Tyrel Stendahl combine to epitomize the sound of the state, soft and sweet, a timid underdog team with a strangely melancholy tone underneath all that playful pop. For reference, consider the Shins – how fun and retro “Know Your Onion!” was when you first heard it, and how depressed you got when you realized how far James Mercer's eyes droop toward sad, miserable Hell. The Terrordactyls don't sound like the Shins, though; they sound like a musical adaptation of Michael Cera. The album's acoustic and of home-recorded quality, with sporadic toy piano and an appearance by Kimya Dawson on “Devices.” Dawson blends in perfectly with the boys, even having the decency to stop and make room for an instrumental chorus by paired-off kazoos.

The lyrics of “I Want to Cry” (“My heart is smaller/but my love for you is taller/than the sky scraping its head into tomorrow”) and “Sandcastles” (“The funnest game we ever play/is thinking of where we could run away/together further and further/every day”) perfectly match the ambiguous irony that's written all over the album. Is it sweet n' cute? Is it a sad bastard soundtrack? I can't listen to this stuff every day for the same reason I couldn't bear the idea of growing up in the Pacific Northwest – grey clouds and sunshine battling for attention until your Zoloft's run out, not to mention an unsatisfying lack of testosterone in both region and band – but this is an underdog you can't help but root for. Also, the hand-drawn, pop-up bulldozer of their inside cover is cause for the best album art since Shellac's Excellent Italian Greyhound. And hidden track “Baltimore” would make John Waters proud: “Everybody knows that you're a dirty fucking town [...] Oh, Baltimore, you make me smile.”

The Terrordactyls want you to have their self-titled album for free.
Download it for free.
Write them a thank-you note.
Then buy the album out of guilt.


Mithel said...

Lucky for me, I don't feel guilt.

Unluckily for me, I do buy good music. Damn their talent!

China said...

Hooray for someone who pays with real money! You are kinder than most.