Friday, August 15, 2008

Pizzasaurus Rex - 'Traveling Today on Yesterday's Maps'

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but that doesn’t stop people from discarding bands based on their name alone - I’m sure your mother hates your Genital Hercules and Rotting Christ records without knowing what they actually sound like. But, sometimes, a band’s name works. Sometimes, it’s so mind-blowingly awesome, nay, jawesome that it acts like a lure for listeners. It just sucks ‘em right in. In this case, I’m talking about one such band, and their name is Pizzasaurus Rex. Sure, it kinda bites Cheesasaurus Rex’s style, much to Kraft’s chagrin, I’m sure, but c’mon. Pizza and rock and/or roll always make for fun times, regardless.

Pizzasaurus Rex has existed in one form or another for about five years now [NOTE: This article ran over a year ago.] After all that rockin’, these indie-punk vets finally got off their duffs and put out a CD, Traveling Today On Yesterday’s Maps. At nine tracks, the album showcases the band’s various influences. It’s mostly rollicking rock fun. But sometimes, like your average Domino’s pizza pie, things turn out a bit stale. Also, they might give you cramps and this weird vertigo sensation that just makes your stomach... nevermind.

Traveling Today On Yesterday’s Maps starts off with “Banana Phone.” While listeners may initially be disappointed over it not being a sweet post-rock Raffi cover, Pizzasaurus Rex quickly compensates by offering a delicious alternative. Alt-rock guitars and rough-yet-catchy vocals abound on this one. Vocalist Barker Gee, in additional to having an awesome name, makes for a great gruff frontman. There’s a strong old school college rock vibe here; Replacements fans should enjoy it. Track two, “Touch,” keeps up the same style with the same solid results. A bit of a Bruce Springsteen influence crops up on “Touch” as well; think of it as Paul Westerberg and The E Street Band.

But as good as Pizzasaurus Rex is at such a style, it seems as if the band can’t break out of that comfort zone with tripping up. The ballad-y “Drown” sinks under its own slow melancholy. By the time the song’s haunting piano coda sets in, listeners may already be comatose. The band tries another musical shift later on the disc with “Emily,” which sounds disturbingly like Rod Stewart. The acoustic guitars make it sound as if the band is shooting for their own “Maggie May,” but the world already has one of those. Luckily, the single-worthy “Into the Sunset” separates the two, injecting some much needed pep.

The band finally breaks out of its Replacements mold on “Harp Song” by turning up the Springsteen. The song’s 30-second intro of guitar and harmonica has the same ethereal quality as the Boss’ Nebraska. But when the song transitions into a more rock-oriented number, the shift is so incredibly catchy that no one can fault them for dropping the folkier angle altogether. “Harp Song” is another alt-rock gem waiting for a mix-tape. The song’s insistent chorus of “absence makes the heart grow fonder, don’t it?” and kickass guitar solo are moving in a “yay life” sort of way.

The album runs into trouble on its last two tracks, though. Now, “Puerto Rico” and “Kick Out the Bags” are both solid garage rockin’ tunes, but both cutout too early. I don’t mean that they lack something in terms of songwriting; I mean they literally just end early. The fadeout on “Puerto Rico” comes just a few seconds too soon. You have rocking and suddenly you don’t. Heck, “Kick Out the Bags” cuts out mid-jam. Both songs are good, but that just makes me hate them even more for blue balling me.

Overall, though, Traveling Today On Yesterday’s Maps is a good record. It’s slightly tossed off in spots - the sloppy production ruins the album’s conclusion - but that won’t stop you from head bobbin’ to “Into the Sunset” or “Harp Song.”

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