Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Walk the Dinosaur

When I first heard that Oliver Hindle (AKA Superpowerless) and Steve Gilkes (of Retro Stereo) had launched a new project, I didn't quite know what to expect. But what I surely didn't expect was whimsical acoustic covers of lyrical internet memes via YouTube.

Still, as odd a concept as it might be to wrap one's head around, the simple truth is that it works!

Scared of Dinosaurs, as the duo is collectively known, only formed in late April of this year, but they've already managed to insinuate themselves into the global geek rock pantheon. Just this month, they were the number 3 most subscribed YouTube channel for UK musicians, and they're currently poised to crack the top 50 for all United Kingdom users.

The loose, impromptu arrangements from their first 9 videos were recently compiled into the free-to-download EP Messing With Antiques. I found it an incredibly appealing little affair from a pair of artists who obviously enjoy both the music making process and each other's company.

Read on for a full breakdown.
  1. "We Are Scared of Dinosaurs (Intro)"
    Messing With Antiques kicks off with a breezy, silly track that introduces the band and implores fans to subscribe to their YouTube Channel. It's not exactly nerdy songwriting at its finest, but it's an enjoyable appetizer.
  2. "Swine Flu"
    Ripped from today's headlines, "Swine Flu" is an original song about Stevey contracting the global disease du jour. It's of particular note because therein he manages to channel the pained, angsty vocal style of early Smiths-era Morrissey tempered with an ample dose of humor. The back-and-forth between Steve and Oliver adds another amusing dimension to the piece, with its only detriment being some poor leveling.
  3. "Chocolate Rain (Cover)"
    Okay, I'll admit it; Tay Zonday's claim-to-fame was a structural nightmare and an over-performed disaster, but damned if it didn't have some fine lyrical imagery! Scared of Dinosaurs parleys this into a folksy piece of blue-eyed soul that makes the song not only listenable, but interesting as well. The vocals are crisp but not over-emphasized, and the guitar accompaniment is delicate and engaging. It's an early favorite.
  4. "I'm Too Sexy (Cover)"
    Another cover of less-than-stellar source material, but I reckon that's kinda the point. SOD's take on Right Said Fred isn't their best, but Stevey's vocals bring enough ironic passion to the table to make it notable. Even if it doesn't grab you from the start, hang around for the extended syllables of the outro. That shit's gold.
  5. "Crank That Soulja Boy (Cover)"
    Another of the Internet's dubious greatest hits, the original "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" was a slap in the face to music lovers everywhere, but Scared of Dinosaurs' clever deconstruction of the piece may yet redeem it. The motormouth vocal delivery and call-and-reply hook are charming, but the brief instrumental breakdown that leads to Steve's impassioned plea to "Superman that ho" is pure musical bliss. The album's true high point and a welcome addition to any playlist.
  6. "Never Gonna Give You Up (Cover)"
    This expert RickRoll is only diminished by its proximity to "Crank That Soulja Boy." Musically, it's probably the most solid piece in this collection of lo-fi covers and off the wall originals, though some mic noise mid-song does ruin its inertia. Despite this, Stevey and Oliver both manage to make this one a memorable take on another "classic."
  7. "The Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum) (Cover)"
    Many of us outside the UK have thus far managed to avoid this disco-crap anthem by the Cheeky Girls, but Scared of Dinosaurs have seen fit to remedy the rest of us of our delightful deficiency. Much in the same way that the duo alchemically transmuted "Chocolate Rain" into a reflective ballad, they reduce "The Cheeky Song" to a plodding dirge. It's certainly enjoyable for those in the know, but folks not familiar with the original may miss the joke.
  8. "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) (Cover)"
    After a string of 5 humorous, self-aware reinterpretations of sub-par pop songs, Scared of Dinosaurs wind down the album with a rather earnest, straight-ahead cover of Green Day's "Good Riddance." It's a nice addition and the lads sound good doing it, but I sort of miss the smartassery inherent in the album's earlier tracks.
  9. "Subscribe Song (Improvisation)"
    Oliver and Stevey close out Messing With Antiques with another original. It boasts an identical melody to the intro track, but it's fun and upbeat enough to warrant revisiting. The lyrics are often nonsensical, but they sound good. And if this EP has any manner of underlying theme, it is easily that charm and musicality can often trump lyricism.
Messing With Antiques is not what you might call a serious musical endeavor. Rather, it is a light-hearted jaunt through some well-worn earworms that's bookended by high quality original tomfoolery from two incredibly talented musicians. It's a delightful introduction to Scared of Dinosaurs as a concept, but also the promise of things to come.

The EP's 9 tracks are loose, demo-y affairs that, despite a glaring lack of production value, still manage to please. This proves that, even when stripped down to their baser elements, Hindle and Gilkes still have ample talent and musical charm to engage the listener. Messing With Antiques is a ridiculously fun outing that's a must-have for fans of guitar-based geek rock, but it also serves to whet our appetites for the duo's coming studio work.

The video for the pair's first proper single, "Repeat Repeat," made its appearance yesterday, and while it forgoes the folksy feel of the songs in this collection for a decidedly more electronic sound it retains all of its musical appeal. They may be Scared of Dinosaurs, but they are certainly unafraid of good-natured musical experimentation.

"Super fresh, now watch me jack. Jacking on them haters, man."

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