RIDE THE EXCITEMENT Theodore Treehouse and their fans have tons of fun.
Bryan Bruchman and Dylan Martin and Ian Paige and everyone else who's been raving about Theodore Treehouse's live set over the past year were completely and totally right. The buzz is that it's nearly impossible to stay still during a Treehouse performance, that people seem near possessed in their pogoing while they play. After just a single listen to their debut full-length, Mercury: Closest to the Sun, it's pretty easy to see why.
The next 10 or so listens (really, I can't stop listening) were demanded by the incredible energy and infectious passion these guys put into every song, headed by Ian Ferrel, who delivers with a mania like a British Invasion version of Caleb Followill (Kings of Leon — they're not the mainstream rock band you think they are) singing Babyshambles songs.
Recording down at Rocking Horse Studio in Pittsfield, New Hampshire, Theodore have managed to capture that live energy on disc, Ferrel's tossed-off "that's right"s and "ooh-ooh-ooh"s coming through like you're standing right in front of them at Slainte or SPACE. You get the idea that he never quite sings these songs the same way twice — and that this album could be 20 percent different and still be terrific.
The songwriting is great, with just enough variation from the typical verse-chorus-verse structure to keep you on edge, and a span of tempos that run from manic Fratellis to jammed-out Phantom Buffalo to rocked-out Animals. Of special note, too, is bassist Asher Platts, who is wonderfully economical with his notes, driving melody and pace without overplaying or getting in the way. He does something important on nearly every track.
"Big Monsters" is most undeniable here, with Ferrel opening with a clipped delivery — "show your teeth, come on and follow me" — and drummer Dylan (he's got one name in the liner notes) finishing each phrase with an elegant splash of cymbal. Then, like a snake coiled for release, it explodes into the second half, where "we fight big monsters every night" and the aggression is somehow conveyed through delicate plinking keyboards.
And what an upbeat ode is "My Apartment Is a Boat," where "in my mind it's summertime/And you're still living in the states." Sam Chandler's keyboard break is so vampy and upbeat I don't know how you could possibly resist jumping around wherever you're hearing it. Same with "Balloon Race," where Ferrel's "doot-doot-doot" makes him the pied piper, like he's walking down the sidewalk and you see him pass and can't possibly avoid turning around and following him with a bounce in your step.
Then they finish with the banjo-infused "Two Hearts" and it's like, "what, they can do THAT?" Gone is the self-assured strut, replaced by emotional vulnerability: "Take a piece of my heart, girl/Take it to the river and wash it."
I'll admit it. With a name like Theodore Treehouse, I thought these guys were a bunch of twee-poppers, but they're nothing of the sort. This is the kind of fun there isn't enough of in music today. Get on board and ride it.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MERCURY: CLOSEST TO THE SUN | Released by Theodore Treehouse | with Brenda + Phantom Buffalo | Dec 11 | at SPACE, in Portland | myspace.com/theodoretreehouse