Review Summary: RIYL: scientology (seriously, isn't it crazy)
In case you couldn’t tell from their album name, Dinosaur Feathers is a band that is trying too hard
. Not trying too hard to be famous or anything, but to be, you know, hip
. You could find this out retrospectively, as I did, getting more pissed off at the contents of Fantasy Memorial
with each calculated “idiosyncrasy” you discover that these guys attribute to themselves (see: their influences section on their Myspace page, which includes “scientology (seriously, isn’t it crazy)” and “bands who are too cool to put other bands as their influences,” which calls into question just how ironic they’re really being but I digress), but the better solution is to enjoy Fantasy Memorial
as you might enjoy a Chicken McNugget: enjoy the tasty greasiness and remain blissfully unaware that it is probably killing you slowly. Whatever you do, just don’t think about it.
Because, and I’ll be honest about this, there’s nothing really
offensively bad about Fantasy Memorial
, at least not in a what-the-fuc
k-is-this? sort of way. Dinosaur Feathers blend the floor-tom-and-acoustic-guitar aesthetic one would associate with a Dodos album with the deliriously upbeat happiness that’s seemed to start getting frighteningly popular ever since Aim & Ignite
shat a gumdrop on everyone’s heads, so it’s no wonder why Dinosaur Feathers are getting popular now; no one wants to be sad these days, and these guys’ campfire-tailored pop songs are geared towards achieving nostalgic smiles in remembrance of simpler times. Sure, they’re a little derivative about it; singer Derek Zimmerman certainly doesn’t mind taking up some of Avey Tare’s more recent inflection habits, nor does he mind making his album sound, at times, exactly like Sung Tongs
, nor does he mind writing obvious harmonies in an ode to what many will say is the Beach Boys but is more likely to Fleet Foxes.
But being derivative isn’t a grievance that causes someone to, say, get really riled up and rant to the internet about the content of a low-profile album that will get an at-best modest chug from the press/hype machine. What does
cause such an impassioned response is the shit
-eating way they are derivative. Dinosaur Feathers do not seem to understand that just having the bubbly squish that opens Merriweather Post Pavilion
open Fantasy Memorial
will not make it the former and that aping elements from their influences (which also include Os Mutantes, pizza, procrastinating, Ruby Suns) and scattering them haphazardly through their album will not make it as cool as the albums that used the same shi
t. In Fantasy Memorial
, you can constantly find moments that trace back to other bands, sometimes exact songs. "History Lessons" sounds straight from Yeasayer's repertoire, "Family Values" borrows the keyboard from "Benson Hedges" nearly verbatim, and in case you missed it the first few implications, these guys want to sound like Animal Collective. The resulting mess is maddening to wade through, and not even all that terrible, just really, really
See, if you were to take Fantasy Memorial
at face value, then you’d end up with a mildly entertaining album packed with hooks enough to warrant a cursory onceormaybetwice-over and a reasonable assessment that “yea, this is good,” which is fine, really. But take, for example, “Teenage Whore,” an album standout both for catchiness and exemplariness of Fantasy Memorial
’s pros and cons. It’s enjoyable, boasting an overwhelmingly charming melody, but has no depth if you think about it, and the more you really
think about it, the more egregious it gets. With its jubilant tone it’s nearly possible to miss that, yes, this is a song about teenage prostitution
and the chorus of ”Teenage whore, where do you get off?"
isn’t just weirdly politically incorrect but misogynist, and like, kind of mean. It was probably meant ironically
because Dinosaur Feathers seem to be all about quirkiness as a substitute for substance (also in their influences: cardboard dinosaurs, donuts, Google, Mali, National Geographic Magazine), but having a lark with something so serious by juxtaposing it with a tune more apt for a folk ballad or, shit
, a love song comes off awkward, trite, and decidedly out of touch.
And no, I’ll take it Dinosaur Feathers aren’t sexist bastards, but they simply don’t get what makes the music they are so desperately trying to make work. Their kitschy, indie-is-hip brand of pop music fails because they don’t get that no, it isn’t 4000 harmonies and no, it isn’t super pleasantness that makes music cool. It’s truth, vital earnestness that makes, for example, a bunch of guys meowing a cool effect instead of a weird outlandish trick, or renders the thematic simplicity of “God Only Knows” heartbreaking instead of well-tread territory. I feel like Oscar’s partner Gil in that episode of The Office where Pam has an art show because I’m shit
ting on the courage and sincerity of a well-intentioned piece of art that obviously took a lot of hard work and effort to create. As Gil says, “Real art takes honesty and bravery,” which Oscar points out are not Pam’s strong points and nor are they Dinosaur Feathers’. Yes, there will still be Michael Scotts in the world for these guys, people who don’t care where Dinosaur Feathers comes from or what they’re saying who just enjoy listening to their music because it’s pretty and junk. But if the barometer by which Fantasy Memorial
is measured is the same barometer that judges the albums Dinosaur Feathers unwittingly emulates, then no, the album isn’t a success, and no amount of uber-pleasant harmonies or illusory ramshackle-ness can fix that.