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Destined: Pterodactyl

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Doug Mosurak spazzes out with Brooklyn trio/quartet Pterodactyl.

Destined: Pterodactyl

Pterodactyl - "Polio"

Three guys graduated from college and decided to head to Brooklyn and keep the good times rolling, settling on the name Pterodactyl for their musical outlet, and playing noisy, unsettled rock with a vague comedic flair. Doesn’t sound like a good look, does it? At the very least, it not as good of one as you get older, and as things turned out, it didn’t to them, either. Tough subject to bring up, though. Can’t be nice about it. “What did it sound like before?” guitarist Joe Kremer asked. He asked me this. I was nice and replied, “Um, uh, sounded like three college guys having fun.” Dick move right there. But how does one come to terms with a band that’s transitioned itself into an intensely intricate, jittery progpunk monster and the heads of a class of which they once cut?

In this case, we talked it over in my living room, over a six-pack and the Milla Jovovich vehicle, Ultraviolet. “God, that looks shitty,” drummer Matt Marlin remarks, as a computer-generated car is torn up by bullets that don’t exist, fired by a man with mesh-covered vents in his nose. “They just can’t kill her, can they,” deadpans Kremer. Can’t kill Pterodactyl, either – not even a disastrous U.S. tour and the band’s premature confidence in a set of music miles behind where they are today, have stopped them from soldiering on. “There were a few big steps,” says Kremer. “There was a point,” bassist Kurt Beals reflects, “that we thought it would be a good idea that, in order for us to play, we had to get totally drunk, and sweaty, and energetic, and play to the point where none of us knew what was going on. Then it got to another point where we learned that nobody watching knew what was going on, either. Our songs were thoroughly unintelligible, and we had to make a decision and try to qualify them, so that we weren’t up there making this absurd barrage of noise.”

Most could qualify the barrage of noise kicked up on Blue Jay as just that, but now it’s pinned down in a concentrated, crystalline lattice of exacting rhythmic pulsebeats, jarring string-shred, and what some might consider an architectural commitment to linear rock enormity. The songs here stand tall, blocking out the sun with repetitive, frantic, yet even gestures, chroming up the specifically-tuned jaggedness of Glenn Branca or Rhys Chatham with precision and bounce, and providing the scientific counterpoint to clinically uneven noise outfits such as Lightning Bolt, even proving able to step outside their cultural frame of reference with chromatically-scaled, Eastern-flavored exercises. Imagine Polvo trying to duke it out with prescriptions instead of pot, a twitching ballet of behind-the-bridge ching and serrated-edge scrape sitting paranoid in its own room, and you’re near the sort of racket Pterodactyl puts out. Guitars will chime on one note for most of a song, since it’s the extremity of the tone and the tension between the instruments carrying the song, sped up to such a blur that chord components sound as if they’ve been split between the guitar and bass. Oh, and they’re singing atop it all as if they’d just discovered something revolutionary, and have been electrocuted for their troubles.

The band met during orientation week at the once-indie-rock-famous Oberlin College, growing out of an alumni tradition of bands, such as Oneida, who’s releasing the band’s debut album, Blue Jay, in March on their Brah imprint of Jagjaguwar, and the Seconds, whose guitarist Zach Lehrhoff has joined the band as an auxiliary member. “Zach’s joining the group in two capacities,” Kremer explains. “One is to have a member of the band in place out here while Kurt’s away, and the other is to add him as a working member of this band.” (Beals moved to Berkeley for grad school last year; a member of math-rock youth group and Jagjaguwar signees The Union of a Man and a Woman back in the late ‘90s, he remarks, “It looks like my whole strategy is to be in a band on this one label, and once the record’s out, to move away from where the band is for college.”) This puts Pterodactyl into an innovative position, however, as both Beals and Lehrhoff are committed to remaining in Pterodactyl and contributing their own material, and playing in both three- and four-piece lineups. Upon moving to Brooklyn in 2002, the group played the circuit of loft parties and DIY shows at Mighty Robot and various Todd Patrick-booked venues. In that time, they released two singles, one on their own, and the other on Parts & Labor’s Cardboard Records imprint. “Those records aren’t really an indication of what we sound like now,” Kremer tells me. “The first one was recorded by a friend of ours at the Hit Factory when no big name artists were using the studio.” “Yeah, Missy Elliott came in once and threw us out,” Beals says. “We’d all try and run over there at odd hours of the night and keep putting pieces together, and it just didn’t sound the way we wanted. And the second one, we recorded in our practice space, so it’s just this lo-fi four-track thing.” Part of Blue Jay’s success can be contributed to the band’s ability to get comfortable in a real studio with real studio engineers, in this case brothers Eric and Josh Topolsky, known for their musical contributions in Golan-Globus and Good Morning, and separately in Storm&Stress and Don Caballero. “Those guys are amazing,” Marlin remarked. “They figured out what we wanted out of the record right away.”

So why the change of heart? “We had this disastrous U.S. tour. In our heads, we had this record written that we thought was great. And the first time we went out, we just toured around and played these shows, and most of the shows sucked, but we figured, hey, that’s the way it is. We were treating it like a vacation.” The sober hand of fate sent the band home early on their second jaunt. “We missed a good five days before we were ready to accept that our van was dead, and at that point we had no choice but to rent a car and drive us and all our shit back to New York.” Some soul-searching on the ride home convinced the guys to attempt a more concerted effort, which led them to the material on Blue Jay, the product of marathon practices in which the band’s ideas were stretched to breaking, and then arranged to suit the sounds they were hearing. This bore out tremendously in the band’s sets throughout 2006. 2007 sees them hitting the road in the spring with Parts & Labor, who are releasing Blue Jay vinyl on their Cardboard Records imprint, and summer dates across the country as well.


By Doug Mosurock

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