Do you know what duck people look like? / You can notice us because we wear dark hoods.” Who are these people? “Don’t tell us we look like ducks, that’s a stereotype.” A measured insanity pervades the minds of Devendra Banhart and Greg Rogove in Megapuss’s first venture onto the musical scene, “Surfing.” Weird is the only way to describe an album that is so self-consciously off the beaten track that hummus vies with sodomy for center stage in this variety show of peculiarities.
This show seems at times almost dangerously derailed. Indeed, Megapuss cannot really decide whether to take itself seriously or simply become another outlet for Banhart’s off-kilter sense of humor — after all, the band became famous when Banhart wore a “Penis Skirt” at their first show in Los Angeles.
However, despite the jokes, the album really has something that makes you want to listen to it over and over again. An era-ending tone of depression collaborates with the sound of a fresh band to produce something that transcends mere eccentricity. Songs like “Lavender Blimp” and “Another Mother” are more Indian hymns of celebration than the products of urban California. Dreams of flying mingle with sheer beauty; “We all want to come from the sun” when this album is on. The sounds manage to be earthy and simple while retaining their contemporary aesthetic.
Relaxed, lulling one to sleep, Megapuss urges us to “[cross] the threshold / Of our old lives,” into something between an acid trip and a religious experience, with songs like “Older Lives” where sitar sounds and bass strumming swirl into “The song we sing when we become the song / When we become, / We belong.”
The general feeling of the “Weird America” sound that Banhart has pioneered is folk-oriented, but external influences have played their part in making this an undulatory experience. “A Gun on His Hip and a Rose on His Chest” is more punk-rock inspired than the rest of the album. Although gimmicky, lines like “Fuck the government, / In the asshole” and “Fuck Enron, / In the asshole” maintain the sense of fun that the two artists have had with the album as a whole. We are forced to laugh at this nod towards anti-establishmentarianism which comes after the calmness of “Surfing.”
The swells of this title track are deeply relaxing. From a Moby-esque emptiness, the song proceeds over the liquid relics of ocean days and half-remembered dreams into a reverie of crackling harmony and back again. “Surfing over the waves” becomes “More beautiful than [we] have ever imagined.”
“Chicken Titz” has teenagers slow-dancing their way out of high school, heads on each others’ shoulders; the song speaks doo-wop and musty floorboards. “Take me away to the land of tomorrow,” turning gently on the record player under memory’s yellowing light. Banhart’s voice echoes softly along the calmness of the chords. “C for your charms, a K for your king, an E for your everything”: one is pushed into quiet celebration of someone we never knew, “so long ago.”
Rockier, “Crop Circle Jerk ’94” is the most instantly pleasing beat on the album. “All my lovin’ and all my lovin’” is obscured by sunny guitars and warm notes interspersed along a staccato drumbeat. This is the sound of a country road in the middle of summer.
“Surfing” is at once calm and enjoyable, a joyfully constructed album. There is something inscrutable, even mysterious about its back-to-roots connection with spirituality, love and the environment. We’ve heard this type of music before, but have we been told “There’s a heaven for everybody, / There’s a heaven for everyone” and at the same time, “hummus with white bread and basil, it’s delicious”?