Proving Mercury was just a launching pad

Theodore II
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  July 25, 2012

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"I almost don't want to listen to the new record because I like the first one so much I'm not sure how I couldn't be disappointed."

Ever talked yourself into that place? Theodore Treehouse did that to me. Mercury, Closest to the Sun, their 12-song debut, was my favorite record (released anywhere) of 2010 and was driving music for a full ski season. Maybe that explains why I had their self-titled follow-up six-song EP for almost a month before I even listened to it.

Once the breakthrough happened, though, every fear was assuaged. Fuck, it's good. It's varied and smart and interesting and a damn good kick in the pants. Best of all, it's challenging, in the way that Zappa could be, but without the sinister snark. Without any of the cynicism.

These songs can be incredibly wide-open and breezy, fast-paced and rocking in all the right ways, without any of the big-production artifice or operatic vocals or anything artificial. Just guitars being played fast and loud with a vocalist in Ian Ferrel who really doesn't mind yelling and maxing out the limiters. Theodore Treehouse borrow all of the punk delivery that made the Police something new and different, with that idea that they can play 15 two-minute songs in a row and never get old.

Except they can string together that energy, and sometimes completely disparate two-minute interludes, into a six-minute-plus masterpiece like "Trees & Wires," which teases you for a minute into thinking it's going to be the same kind of palate-cleansing odyssey that was "Intergalactic Space Travel" in the middle of the first record. Then comes a Stones-like strut, with a fat bass from Asher Platts, and Ferrel should have you in the palm of is hand by "listen to me when I tell you this."

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Twice, though, in the course of the song, the band completely drop away, like sucking all the air out of the universe and then blowing it right back in, which just has to murder when played live if they can pull it off. Like those huge drops the pop electronic guys work into their sets, but rock and roll.

At one point they bring in a Magnolia Electric Co. vibe with the crunchy guitar and Sugar Mountain warmth. "Gonna stay home, gonna get stoned," Ferrel promises a caller inquiring about his plans for the night, "Gonna think about the state of things." Either that, or, as they choose to close the song, play mariachi music at double time.

That's the third track. They have to make sure you make it there, though, and an opener like "Friendship Bracelet" is an iron-clad guarantee you'll finish the six songs out. It's got the best first 30 seconds of an album I've heard in a long time, a playful electric guitar riff played like no one's ever been in a hurry, joined by a ghost of a snare from Dylan Verner: "I got a letter from you/Indicating you're through/You're done/You got no expectations" — and by the end it's like they've been listening to nothing but Uncle Tupelo for the last month, banging out that alt-country hiccup.

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