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Pterodactyl - Spills Out

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Artist: Pterodactyl

Album: Spills Out

Label: Jagjaguwar

Review date: Oct. 28, 2011

At some point in the not-too-distant past, an interviewer is said to have asked the Japanese hardcore band Gauze why their songs weren’t as fast as those of their contemporaries. "You don’t have to play fast," the musician supposedly replied. "You have to be fast."

So it goes with just about every other intangible quality of music. Instead of merely sounding ambitious, Pterodactyl have gone ahead and made Spills Out, an LP teeming with unabashed ambition. The methods at work here seem so organically scattershot that the record comes off as a genuine piece of pop experimentalism. It’s not easy to take being (ostensibly) melodic this far without losing your way and winding up sounding like bland studio pop or making an ill-advised foray into electronic music.

The fact remains, though, that even amidst the impressive vocal harmonies, guitar heroics and tasteful synth usage, Spills Out keeps crashing into things we’ve heard before, and its songwriting isn’t always strong enough to keep cracks from showing. But when Spills Out gels ("The Break") and its songs sound less like collections of musical tropes and more like… well, songs, we get glimpses at what could have been circa those mid-2000’s bands who experimented with polyrhythms and got really good at guitar.

Speaking of polyrhythms, with few exceptions ("Zombies"), Pterodactyl drummer Matt Marlin absolutely refuses to take his foot off the gas. It’s technically admirable, but can keep the tension in Pterodactyl’s songs from resolving itself the way Spills Out’s vocal melodies seem to want it to. The dissonance between the vocals’ barefaced pop aspirations and the rhythm section’s refusal to settle down gives Spills Out a strange structure, as if some of the band’s primary influences were the interludes on Gerbils and Olivia Tremor Control records.

Missteps aside, Pterodactyl are still going off in their own directions, even when the popularity of a lot of current records could be considered a response to the proggy, noisy music Pterodactyl and their friends made six or seven years ago. Spills Out isn’t the best record of its ilk to come out this year, but it’s not the worst, either (by any stretch of the imagination), and so long as Pterodactyl keeps writing their idiosyncrasies out longhand instead of aiming for a quick fix, they’ll keep making deep, worthwhile records.

By Joe Bernardi

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