Megapuss

'Surfing' (Vapor Records) -- 3.5 STARS

Megapuss is a new band, kind of. Its members are officially (and unofficially) Greg Rogove of New York based band Priestbird, Devendra Banhart of Devendra Banhart fame, Noah Georgeson, Human Giant humorist Aziz Ansari, and Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti. Moretti, Ansari, and Georgeson may not, however, actually be in the band.

Some have called their new and first album “Surfing” a joke album, and some have termed it inspired, both of which could be wrong. Or right. To focus on issues such as these, though, would be missing the point. Megapuss isn’t really bothered by evaluations or categorizations like these; the same should go for those listening to their music. Why would you focus on anything concrete? As Banhart explained at a recent live performance, “We wrote a lot of songs. These were the worst.”

It’s hard to listen to the 14 tracks on “Surfing,” however, and buy Banhart’s assessment of the situation. The words spoken by the Venezuelan singer that evening were not self-deprecation, nor were they even a poor attempt at lowering crowd expectations. Instead, they were indicative of a mode of living that the album embodies—one in which the artists involved are fundamentally talented and seem to derive true and honest pleasure from making music, no matter its form or focus.

A comparison comes to mind, one that is both spot-on and completely unrelated: the menu at Shopsin’s in Lower Manhattan. Five days a week, the tiny restaurant offers almost 1,000 menu items, including Senegalese chicken, “blisters on my sisters,” and ebelskivers. While owner/chef Kenny Shopsin is all but the next member of Megapuss, the two entities are connected in that they make things (food, music) that are playfully strange and absurdist but still manage to be thoroughly enjoyable. More importantly, the joy that people like us take from people like Shopsin and music like Megapuss’s is derived from the creators’ knowledge of fundamentals—that is, things that people are either immediately comfortable with or almost universally enjoy—and an appreciation for simplicity and harmony. Let me explain.

A dish like blisters on my sisters, or tracks from “Surfing” such as “Chicken Titz” or “A Gun On His Hip and a Rose On His Chest,” can sound, well, different to those who haven’t tried them yet. And they are.

The title of the latter track—perhaps the least odd of the bunch—is a facade behind which lies a song exclusively concerned with listing the people Megapuss would like to see sodomized. At the same time, the format of the song is inextricable from the canon of rock and roll music (early touchstones like “Louie, Louie” or “Wild Thing”) and wrought in the image of Bo Diddley (the title comes from the Diddley song “Bo’s a Gunslinger”). It’s a marriage of the strange and the familiar, of structure and the willfully absurd, much akin to Shopsin’s macaroni and cheese pancakes.

It is what it sounds like. Pancake batter is placed on a hot grill, cooked macaroni and grated cheese is added on top, cooked on both sides, then the whole thing is smothered with maple syrup. I know it’s a stretch, but work with me here.

Think of Bo Diddley as the batter and sodomy humor as the macaroni and cheese. Without the support of the batter, the macaroni would almost surely lack structure and the cheese would undoubtedly burn, leaving behind a charred and failed mess. Megapuss, then, is both the inspiration and the actor that puts the ingredients together and creates an unexpected delight.

It isn’t hard to see that “Surfing” is undoubtedly the work of a group of creative people who set out to do little more than be ridiculous and make music their friends would want to listen to. You don’t put out a humorless record in which the song “Mister Meat (Hot Rejection)” is followed by a song called “Hamman” and expect people to pay money for it. You just don’t. Though they might. The ideas and lyrics almost purposefully seem improvised, and thank God the Megapuss guys are gifted enough to make music with enough intentionality that it can support the overt humor.

—Reviewer Ruben L. Davis can be reached at rldavis@fas.harvard.edu.

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