As if the nudie cover art, the picture of dildo glasses inside the cover and titles like “Chicken Titz” weren’t indication enough, Megapuss’ spotty debut, Surfing, isn’t an album to be taken seriously. It’s not like it’s Arcade Fire. In fact, the Megapuss’ two principle members, Priestbird’s Gregory Rogove and Devendra Banhart, started the group as a lark and had all of the titles long before there was music to accompany them.
Surfing plays like an elaborate joke Banhart and Rogove started a few months ago that culminated in a tossed-off album. A lot of the tracks are half-baked, underdeveloped romps (like “Adam and Steve,” “Hamman” and “Lavender Blimp”) or vague attempts at humor that won’t be funny to anyone with a learner’s permit (the previously mentioned “Chicken Titz,” which tries to mask the stupidity of the chorus in a vaudeville ballad, and the spoken word/ hazy burner “Duck Man Duck People"). There’s no worse moment on Surfing than the Bo Diddley pastiche of “A Gun on His Hip and a Rose on His Chest,” which features lines like “fuck the president in the asshole” and “fuck the taxes in their I.R.asses.”
It’d be easy to toss Surfing into the junk pile after a lot of the stupidity that permeates around the album, but mixed in with that are some pretty solid tracks. “Theme from Hollywood” uses it’s lo-fi acoustics as a bludgeoning tool thanks to its bass and drums, but also features plentiful Laurel Canyon harmonies to augment the low end. Despite its title, “Crop Circle Jerk ’94” is a delicate ballad that recalls the best of Banhart’s ‘60s pilfering work and glides thanks to a barely there surf-guitar line, and a campfire vibe propels “To the Love Within” beyond its minor instrumentation and hokey lyrics.
But despite Rogove’s contribution and support from the likes of the Strokes’ Fabrizio Moretti among others, Surfing illuminates the problems that have dogged Banhart since the jump: He can make really great pieces of ‘60s folk and pop homage, but has terrible self-editing skills and has trouble avoiding lameness, sad attempts at humor and bad taste. If there’s ever a case for an album to be trimmed to a single or an EP, Surfing is a pretty good one.