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Fergus & Geronimo - Unlearn

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Artist: Fergus & Geronimo

Album: Unlearn

Label: Hardly Art

Review date: Jan. 19, 2011

Fergus & Geronimo were born during the recording of Foreign Lands, a spot-on recreation of first wave indie rock by Denton, TX’s Teenage Cool Kids. Lead cool kid Andrew Kelly and studio engineer Andrew Savage linked up, jacked their names from the miniature gang leaders in War of the Buttons, and proceeded to strip down the entirety of their parents’ record collections to their most essential elements. The end result is the 11 songs on Unlearn, which I’ll save you the frustration of calling “eclectic” and opt for the even more euphemistic “well-informed.”

A string of singles in 2010 has already proven that Kelly and Savage are not only proficient historical re-enactors, but rather adept revisionists, as well. Opener “Girls With English Accents” mends the Beatles vs. Stones divide by mining bits and pieces from Rubber Soul and Some Girls in equal measure. Similarly, “Powerful Lovin’” goes beyond indie-pop’s current obsession with retro R&B to imagine what would have happened if the Day the Music Died did not, in fact, happen.

These send-ups of the past are, for the most part, the heart of this record. The revue bounces back and forth between a range of classic rock sounds: a romantic Iggy shows up on “World Never Stops,” a thoughtful Ozzy on “Forced Aloha,” Frankie Valli’s top register on “Unlearn,” and all of Zappa’s charming weirdness on “Where the Wall Are Made of Grass.” Not only are they adept interpretations, they prevent the album from being overwhelmed by Savage’s bread and butter Jaggerisms. Which are, without a doubt, spot on. Eventually, the current Mick model will break down and need to be replaced. All it takes is one listen to “Baby Don’t You Cry” to realize that out of all the rehash artists doing the same thing currently, the heir is, in fact, apparent.

Not that the only thing these guys can do is derivation. If anything, they’re just firm believers that you have to understand the rules before you can break them. In the end, it’s the slight bends and the interpretative reworking of traditional sounds that keep Fergus & Geronimo clear of the imitation trap. Much like Brian Jonestown Massacre, the songwriting feels contemporary. Unlike Anton Newcombe’s perpetual flashback, however, their point of view feels modern, as well. This manifests itself structurally on “Michael Kelly,” with a tortuous build and retreat that could just easily fit into the next Teenage Cool Kids album. But more importantly, it manifests itself topically on “Baby Boomer.” It’s the kind of song you would hear on The Ed Sullivan Show, but reworked as a scathing indictment of -- surprise surprise -- their parents’ generation. The two open in unison singing, “Baby boomer look outside at the world you did create,” and it only goes downhill from there.

These punk injections are pleasantly disruptive, and if there was anything I’d ask of Fergus & Geronimo for the future it’s that they do it more. Especially the way they do it on “Wanna Know What I Would Do?,” which does for the artist/critic relationship what “Baby Boomer” did for familial relationships, but even harsher. Just writing about it makes me a little more uncomfortable: the charges of phoniness, scene-leeching, and name-dropping for the sake of getting girls seem to be aimed directly at this writer’s head. After listening to Kelly sing, “I’d recognize that culture evolves and isn’t forced / by people without brains that think that art can be coerced” for the 10th or 11th time, it seems like now is as good a time as any to leave you and recommend you hear it for yourself.

By Evan Hanlon

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