Pterodactyl - Spills Out
Record Label: Jagjaguwar
Release Date: November 15, 2011
Since their 2007 self-titled debut, Brooklyn quartet Pterodactyl have been pitting manic noise in a tug-of-war with skewed pop accessibility, in a similar manner to bands like Hella and Beep Beep. On Pterodactyl, the jarring intensity of Lightning Bolt largely won out over the pop-rock stomp of Modest Mouse, but that dynamic shifted slightly with the band's follow-up, 2009's Worldwild. What the band have put forth with their latest release Spills Out continues that trend; the songs here are still rhythmic, complex and vaguely experimental, but are often a scant spoonful of high-fructose corn syrup away from being comparable to Vampire Weekend. Not that that's at all a bad thing, just surprisingly amiable for a group that has had a tendency to sound rather menacing in the past.
The jangly shimmer that opens the leadoff track "School Glue"-- a sound that wouldn't have felt out of place on Arcade Fire's Funeral-- plays like an announcement of the band's intention to garner broader appeal. While Spills Out's more contagious moments, like the Yeasayer-meets-Grizzly Bear romp "The Break", may possess the requisite likability factor, its entirety is still best suited for noiseniks and fans of mild psychedelia. Though the album's immediacy is too shrouded for it to turn Pterodactyl into festival headliners, there's enough spiky percussion, mathy guitar lines, and yes, even slyly catchy harmonies, to draw in anyone listening intently. And who doesn't have at least a little soft spot for some wistful nostalgia? On "Searchers", vocalist Joe Kremer sings, "Once, we were young, and together, it was easy to feel loved," over an echoed Walkmen-like wall of sound. Maybe it's not as poignant as, say, Iron and Wine's "Tree by the River", but it easily works in context.
With Spills Out, the ongoing rope-pulling contest that is Pterodactyl's sound continues. For the first time, the pop-friendlier side has clearly won the battle, but not without opposition. More aggressive, sludgy songs like "Allergy Shots", "Thorn" and "Zombies" provide balance, and perhaps cater somewhat to fans of the debut who might be put off by guitars not being used as weapons. The overall approach pays off, as Spills Out is a satisfying album that puts a unique spin on otherwise trite indie-pop touchstones and a marriage of dissonance and charm seamless enough that, at times, it's almost difficult to tell one from the other.