The Terrordactyls – s/t

These Terrordactyls, otherwise known as Michael Cadiz and Tyrel Stendahl, who originally hail from Baltimore, Maryland and Washington state respectively, are musically and vocally playful, but add a strong streak of melancholy and morbidity to their super-fun and wry lyrics. A feeling of the innocence and elation of being a kid courses through their self-titled album, which is filled with notes from a toy piano, kazoo calls, handclaps, xylophone plinks, guitar strum, and vocals from both band members.

At first listen, the short-phrase, sing-song delivery and short runs of guitar come off a bit plain and simplistic, but given successive spins, the clever and enthusiastic wordplay, usually set in rhyming patterns, unfolds and delights in its bittersweet knowing-ness (like on the lyrics of “Swimming”: “I would swim next to you forever / but I fear that you will tire of me / and drift off with the shark.”). The subject matter mostly focuses on relationships and the individual who is longing for, hopeful about, seeking fulfillment from, or insecure about the object of his affection. While the brisk, upbeat sound turns frowns upside down, it’s the lyrics that whimsically worm into the core of the brain.

Take, for instance, “Sabina”, with its dual vocal lines, with one guy sing-talking sweetly and clearly, the other guy’s vocals mirroring in a lower, manipulated tone against short-strummed guitar, a few melodic hits of a xylophone that accentuate the vocals, and the deceptively simple lyrics of “Look at the white wall / there’s nothing prettier / than absolutely nothing at all.”

The jaunty tempo of “Zombie Girl” sweetens the deal with an intro of kids exclaiming “Yay!” in unison, leading to Michael and Tyrel trading short verses, with one of the guys talking in French no less, saying “Toujours, mon amour”, a romantic gesture of being young and in love with, ummm, a zombie girl who has “…no nose / but that’s okay / you can hide treasures / inside your brain.” It all sounds quite silly on paper, but has a sweet appeal within the context of the song. That giddy feeling of being a kid and having a crush on someone comes out in force on the grammatical train wreck of “You’re the most awesomest!”, and this sentiment is exuberantly supported by upbeat whistling, kazoo bleats, and “La-la-la” vocal proclamations.

Shed no tears for “I Want To Cry”, with its piano notes, guitar strum, and cutesy expressions of being “super-bored” and “funner than everyone”, which will make any listener smile nostalgically at their own childhood verbal mash-ups. The heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics continue with the more complex “My heart is smaller / but my love for you is taller / than the sky scraping into tomorrow.” Not exactly kid’s stuff, that.

Terrordactyls capture the grade school arts ‘n’ crafts milieu with ease on “Decoration Daniel”, with its rhythmic tempo of constant guitar strum, brightly tinging notes, the snapping clap of a stapler that turns into hand claps, some kazoo toots, and the irresistible line of “You’re the magic in his marker / you’re the glitter on the poster.”

“Fall” is downright morbid with lyrics like “If you want to die / give me a call / we’ll have each other bleeding / in no time at all / Our summer’s ending / now it’s time we fall”, but it’s done in such a casually fun vocal and musical style, with the breathless “Oh-oh-oh, uh-oh” vocals and handclaps, that it seems more like a dance of joy than a fight macabre because the lazy days of summer are ending and the dreaded school year is about to start.

Kimya Dawson is a guest vocalist on “Devices”, a charming duet with guitar strum, two (count ‘em, two!) kazoos, and a more emotional delivery of the lyrics as one of the guys sing-talks “You and I are meant for each other”, and then he and Kimya trade brief vocal lines, as he sings “A literary device”, then Kimya sings “Alone we’re just words…”, and then he sings “…but together we’re lovers.”

“Sandcastles” is the first song with a more serious vibe overall, from its darker, mid-tempo guitar tone, contemplative, old-fashioned piano notes, and slower tempo. The vocals are hushed and lower, alternating between the vocalist’s reality and his dream of a relationship where he feels half of a whole and where “I’ll lose myself in you / if you will lose yourself in me / then we can wander around aimlessly / looking for someplace new to be.”

The lyrics-packed antics return on “Shipping”, with its light, up-tempo drum beat, keyboard notes, and fast guitar strum, all contrasted by really bleak lyrics describing (metaphorically, one would hope) the end of a relationship where the couple break up, their love doesn’t survive, and the guy decides to package and ship himself away (“Shut me up inside a cardboard box…just remember that I love you…you’ll never see me again.”) to dire ends when he has an accident and dies en route, with his “…insides becoming outsides…”, a mess that involves spilled wine and knives…Ah, yes, happy times…

“Nobody Knows” is a hoot and a half, with smooth, flowing, Western-sounding guitars, fast-marching beat, and a desperate, but fleet-tongued narrator speaking of “terrible times / terrible rhymes” (and possibly terrible crimes?), where the punishment is a shootout of the verbal variety. Sergio Leone-like horns and shouts fill the background, with a “…barrel pointed / wait for the click / nobody knows / just when your face / is gonna explode”, but in the end the narrator turns tail and runs away under pressure.