Music

Fergus & Geronimo: Unlearn

Unlearn is a dynamic, impressively scattershot pop record, but as you listen, the question becomes whether or not this wide range of sounds is, in fact, their sound.


Fergus & Geronimo

Unlearn

US Release: 2011-01-18
Label: Hardly Art
UK Release: import
Artist Website
Label Website
Amazon
iTunes

Fergus & Geronimo, made up chiefly of duo Andrew Savage and Jason Kelly, are pop imposters. After scattering singles across various labels, Hardly Art has put out their first full-length, Unlearn, which is in itself a scattershot cross-section of pop music. What they achieve here, constantly catching their listener off-guard by changing tempo, texture, feel, and (often) musical genre, is no easy feat. Other bands try this sort of jarring surprise with vast, patched-together soundscapes, but not Fergus & Geronimo. Throughout 11 songs and less than a half-hour, the band maintains tight pop structures and rests on quick, infectious hooks. The surprise comes in no two songs sounding the same. In fact, if you didn't know any better, you might think this a compilation of various unknown pop acts.

Opener "Girls with English Accents" sets you up for an album of sweetly nerdy, sun-drenched pop music. The lead guitar hums over a dusty acoustic, and the spare percussion makes it feel like a folk-pop ditty, albeit one that contains playful vocal harmonies and deep hooks. They pay homage to those oft-romanticized British girls, hoping to take a trip across the pond to meet them, but then the two-and-a-half minutes of pop bliss are over, not setting you up at all for "Wanna Know What I Would Do?" While the humble pop sound is intact, just about everything else here is different. They trade sun-soak for faint, dour guitars, delivering a deadpan indictment of hipster idolatry that Jeffrey Lewis will probably wish he wrote.

From there, we get the earnest blues-rock of "Powerful Lovin'", and to this point, nothing has sounded the same, but you can see the lines they're drawing. From there, though, the wheels start to come off in an exciting way. There's the precise guitar noodling of "Michael Kelly", the burst of garage-rock energy that is "Baby Don't You Cry", and -- perhaps the most curious song of them all -- "The World Never Stops", which makes Kelly and Savage sound like bratty younger brothers of Sonic Youth. Through all this shape-shifting, it becomes clear that these dudes know their stuff. It isn't just that they effectively bounce from one genre to another; what's so impressive is that they hit them all with precision and energy, so they seem to, say, out-Black Lips the Black Lips on "Baby Don't You Cry", and pretty much show up whoever else they want to with the breadth of their pop-music chops.

This is, however, a double-sided success. Fergus & Geronimo are awfully clever in these songs, and sometimes you wonder if Savage and Kelly are being too clever for their own good. The arch delivery of "Wanna Know What I Would Do?" is pitch-perfect, nailed the way Stephin Merritt would nail it. Following the cute "Girls with English Accents", though, it makes what seems like a more earnest "Powerful Lovin'" come across as flip. So while they nail the blues-rock vibe, you start to wonder to what end they knock it out. "Forced Aloha", a dreamy, psych-pop stand-out that comes late in the record, similarly leaves a question mark. It shakes off the cleverness better than "Powerful Lovin'", but with all this precise genre-hopping, you start to wonder if they really feel all of these songs or if they do it just because they're good at it.

Unlearn is, without a doubt, an impressive pop record, a set of songs that are infectious yet more ambitious than their lean, humble sound might initially give away. The question then becomes whether or not this wide range of sounds is, in fact, their sound. They certainly don't sound like they're borrowing, so much as building on what's there, but when you hit the genuine feeling of moments like "Forced Aloha", for all the band's dynamic performances, those are the moments that stick.

6

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image