(Rodeoactive Records, CD)
The world needs geeks. They are responsible for some of the greatest contributions to modern society, from computers to airplanes to Star Wars episodes IV, V and VI — ignoring, of course, the abominations that were episodes I, II and III. As it turns out, the hopelessly awkward, sci-fi obsessed and typically dateless among us are valuable on a local level as well. Exhibit A: Vs. Sharktopus, the terrific debut album from the Burlington-based trio and self-described geeks Torpedo Rodeo.
“Baby Grey” introduces both the record and the band’s clear affinity for Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker/David Lowery. FYI, geeks love Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker and David Lowery. Max Krauss unfurls a jangly, rudimentary guitar line that makes you want to find some skinheads and take them bowling. “The baby’s in the car, she’s following me / Blowing them kisses but she kisses with her teeth. / Looking like a queen in her underwear, / Lady, you’re the world, you don’t even care,” he sings, just as bassist Nick Sherman and drummer Jeremiah Johnson jump in with lean and ragged enthusiasm.
Breezy, contrapuntal vocal harmonies disguise the searing guitar attack leading into “A Shot in the Dark.” Torpedo Rodeo also boast a healthy affection for the fringes of early Brit pop. This cleverly crafted pop nugget recalls The Kinks’ Ray Davies in his more fancifully subversive moments.
“Starlust” gets this critic’s nod for the most subtly funny song of the year. Over a pleasant and lithe guitar riff, Krauss intones, “It was a bit of a stretch but we made it. Yeah we made it. / And the crowd just stood there shouting, “‘Freebird!’ ‘Freebird!’” And then he concludes, “They got what they wanted, but we got the last word, just like we planned / It sure is great being in a cover band.” Clearly, some geeks have good senses of humor. Torpedo Rodeo’s is evident throughout the album, but especially on Irish reggae-rocker “Dublin” and the jam pastiche “Oscar Man.”
Torpedo Rodeo often bill themselves as a surf-punk band. But not until “Don’t Give That Guy Whiskey” do they indulge either genre. That’s too bad, because they are readily equipped to mine either the more traditional surf-rock purveyed by Dick Dale or the genre’s spacier (and geekier) latter-day iterations proffered by the likes of Man or Astroman. Both are acknowledged and obvious influences.
The record lags slightly near the end, but not enough to diminish what is, by and large, a thoroughly enjoyable, unpredictable and surprisingly nuanced debut. Indeed, the geek shall inherit the Earth. Or at least The Monkey House this Saturday, when Torpedo Rodeo celebrate the release of Vs. Sharktopus with Human Heads.