Like all Earthlings at the point of death, Mary Young sent faint reminders of herself to those who had known her. She released a small cloud of telepathic butterflies, and one of these brushed the cheek of Dwayne Hoover, nine miles away.
Dwayne heard a tired voice from somewhere behind his head, even though no one was back there. It said this to Dwayne: “Oh my, oh my.”
—Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions
Emerging from the cocoon of their basement in an all-too-literal manifestation of the Pop Underground, the latest contender for the musical throne has been revealed in Winnipeg, Canada’s the Telepathic Butterflies. If the release of a new New Pornographers disc is practically a Canadian national event, then there’s a chance that this retro guitar pop debut could become one of the year’s sleeper hits.
Actually, it’s been a long gestation period for the Telepathic Butterflies. After formerly performing in the larval stages as Mayonnaise and the Groove, the band that became the Telepathic Butterflies worked in the chrysalis of their basement studio on and off between 1997 and 2000, emerging with 12 self-recorded and self-produced songs. Those songs finally saw the light of day as 2001’s Nine Songs, the title and cover art of which played off of J.D. Salinger’s collection of short stories, Nine Stories. Creating some very positive buzz, the band was picked up by the Rainbow Quartz label. Deciding to re-release the disc, the Telepathic Butterflies remixed the tracks for cleaner production, added four new songs, and returned to their original inspiration, Kurt Vonnegut, for both title and graphic design. They even emulated the classic cover art from Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, from which the band took its name.
It’s already become de rigueur for the press to namedrop the Vonnegut reference when mentioning the band, but it’s more than just pretentious association. Whether it’s Salinger or Vonnegut, there is something decidedly literate about the Telepathic Butterflies. In spite of their obvious psychedelic rock heritage (or because of it), the lyrical content of the band’s output reflects a modernist sense of blissful nihilism and playful cynicism. Brushing just shy of overly-poetic, whether it’s a slam on manufactured stardom (“Radio Darlings”), reflecting on a city tableau (“Urban Meanderings”), or trippy life lessons (“Floater”), the songs are both earnest and introspective.
But it’s the music that sells the package. A post-punk explosion of the Kinks into the Pixies. The loud and raucous early days of XTC crammed into their latter-day Dukes of Stratosphear psych-out. Nevermind does Abbey Road. The comparisons have already been made by pundits, but they hold up. The Telepathic Butterflies use heavy guitar rock and swirling melodies to evoke a sense of rock’s past glories without losing touch with the present. Like their countrymen in Sloan, they don’t divide rock and pop into separate spheres, and so they avoid much of the fey beautification that often pervades the Pop Underground scene. It’s an at once familiar and yet somehow refreshing sound.
From the second “All Very Hoopla!” kicks off, The Telepathic Butterflies is an interminably energetic ride. Dripping with hooks, churning, foot-stomping rhythm, and bouncy melodies, the disc plows from one track to the next with the unleashed force of a groovy tornado. The music varies a bit from straight guitar pop to psychedelic swirls to jangle smile-alongs, but for the most part it maintains a consistent wall of melody not dissimilar to early days of the Who. They even manage to make an acoustic trip through Donovan’s “Epistle to Dippy” sound good. “Narcissus”, “Elixir”, “Flowerbed”, “Serendipity”—all would appeal to guitar pop fans and indie rockers with a little bit of a lighter side.
However, if there’s one drawback to the Telepathic Butterflies, it’s that too many of the songs seem to run together. While the melodies are intentionally thick, and there are plenty of hooks to go around, Rejean Ricard’s syrupy vocals lack distinction from one track to the next. While the Telepathic Butterflies have a great sound, and it’s fine that they stick to it and drive it home, it becomes a bit incessant after 16 tracks. While an hour-long disc gives you a lot of band for your buck, it’s possible that a few of these tracks could have been trimmed and saved for later releases. However, individually they’re all quality songs, and I couldn’t begin to say which I would have left off.
The Telepathic Butterflies isn’t a 100% perfect album, but it’s an eye-opening debut to be sure. If there’s a little room for improvement, the Telepathic Butterflies get enough right the first time out that their future is certainly bright. Strap on your headphones, get comfy, find your bliss, and prepare to rock.