Just the thought of a musical-parody act makes my soul cleave. “Dick in a Box” and the occasional Dana Carvey routine notwithstanding (sing it with me now kids: “choppin’ broc-a-leee”), this is just one of those subgenres that profoundly offends my humanity and inner grace — on par with watching a German scat film or an 8mm loop of Grace Jones strangling kittens. (If you’re reading this, Harmony Korine, feel free to license this last idea for your next film.) I won’t go so far as to say that The Distant Future EP, the Sub Pop debut from “New Zealand’s fourth most popular folk-parody duo,” Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie (a.k.a. Flight of the Conchords), is the impetus of a pan-judicial sea change on this issue, but it has at least forced me to rethink some things.
I’ll take a wild guess and assume you already know that Flight of the Conchords have what’s for the most part a hilarious television series on HBO. What you might not know is that they’ve been around awhile, performing in New Zealand since 1998 and self-releasing their debut record in ’02 (the Folk the World Tour live album). More recently, they released an enormous triple-CD documenting their work from a six-part BBC Radio 2 series, the aptly titled The BBC Radio Series: Flight of the Conchords (2006). Most of what we’ve heard from them, both on this EP and the HBO series, are on these albums in embryo.
The biggest joke the Conchords play here is that they are probably better songwriters than half the legit bands out there. Take “If You’re Into It,” a paint-by-numbers boy-girl ditty, complete with rolling Johnny Cash guitar melody and lyrics like “Then on our next date/ Well, you can bring your roommate/ I don’t know what Stuart’s keen to/ But if you want we can double team you.” The song is way catchier than a parody deserves to be, and it spotlights the playful dialogue between Clement’s baritone and McKenzie’s sweet tenor, which is pretty much the ham and cheese of what the duo does musically. Also included here are three live tracks, the best of which is the post-Asimov sci-fi snuff parody “Robots.” It’s essentially a victory anthem made by and for robots celebrating the recently achieved slaughter of humanity, complete with “binary solos” and a priceless impersonation of Stephen Hawking’s voice synthesizer by Jemaine and set in the “distant future” — the year 2000. I have to think that Zager and Evans’s 1969 classic “In the Year 2525” was on their minds when writing this one.
Though really just a teaser for the duo’s upcoming full-length, The Distant Future is a nice synopsis of everything Flight of the Conchords does well: deadpan wit, uncomfortably good songwriting, and a sober absurdity that more often than not plays in the same league as Monty Python’s best musical parodies.