Butterfly Joe – S/T

Ah, remember the good ol’ days when being a fan of the Dead Milkmen meant having some sort of indie soul yet charming sense of humor? How many times did I put “Punk Rock Girl” on a compilation tape for a girl who liked that style of music and keep “Bitchin’ Camaro” for my own compilations? I had friends who were even more into the off-kilter punk/rock than I was, and we would sit around in their college dorm and listen to singer Joe Genaro belt out those silly lyrics as if he meant every single word.
Butterfly Joe is Joe Genaro’s new project, and he brought along former Milkman Dean Clean to help out. The days of punk rock-energy are gone, as Joe decides instead to go to his pop-rock roots. These songs remind me more of the clever and hook-filled They Might Be Giants than Dead Milkmen, but you can’t help but recognize Genaro’s voice and silly song styles. With a pop founding, these 17 relatively short songs are all over the place, bringing in domestic abuse, love, and simple happiness in ways that will make you laugh harder than you have in a while.
You can sense Joe’s sense of humor from the very beginning, as “Happy Imbecile Song” starts off, “I’m a stupid imbecile, la-da-da-da-da, sitting in my windowsill, la-da-da-da-da.” It’s easy to focus on the silly-but-sweet lyrics instead of the soft rocking acoustic music in the background. “April, May, June, July” reminds me almost of a Too Much Joy song, with a catchy pop structure and sweet but almost nasally childlike vocals. It also takes a page from Dr. Suess, “you can reach me in a taxi, or you can even fax me,” and so on. “Autumn Leaves” is a somber, mellow and more heartfelt number, about as serious as the band gets. But don’t worry, “Life is Better in the Movies” brings in the accordion for an almost country-waltz song. “My life as a screenplay would be difficult to sell / there’s lots of middle and no end and nothing much to sell,” Genaro sings. I think my favorite track is the more subtle “Fancy Walls,” filled with low-end acoustic guitar and xylophone and flute, with backing “all right, all right” sung between every line. I would swear “Whale in the Sea” could be a They Might Be Giants song. Genaro brings in his Big Mess Orchestra friends to add strings and orchestrated sounds to tunes like “San Francisco.” “Seventeen” reminds me most of the old Milkmen days, with a more indie rock feel to it and faux-deep vocals. I really love the french horn and trumpets on “Yesterday I Was Talking to My Sister.” Genaro names Green Day, Ween and Howard Stern in the ode to radio on “Radio,” a catchy song on its own. “Honey Jar” is a tongue-in-cheek romp about, well, you have to guess. And the album finishes with “Never Had a Pony,” a soft and sweet song that almost makes you cry for Genaro’s pony-less-ness.
Does the fact that Butterfly Joe is silly mean you can’t take this serious as rock? Well, that’s up to you. Sure, it’s not something that I will devote my life to. But then, humor as a genre of rock is greatly overlooked. How many people disregard They Might Be Giants’ clever pop because of their lyrics? Same with some of the more outrageous Talking Heads and Too Much Joy songs? Well, don’t disregard Butterfly Joe. Behind the humorous and sincere vocals is some sweet and catchy pop that will have you singing along in no time.