Ernie and the Magic Shapes
Guitarist Kevin “Melodious Punk” Fredericks describes the sound of his band, Ernie and the Magic Shapes, thusly: “The short description I’ve used a couple of times now is, ‘Your head being squeezed into a squirrel’s foulest regions, and then a cool splash of Nintendo all over your soup.'”
If your reaction to that “short description” is to say that it’s a bunch of silly, juvenile nonsense, you’d be correct. However, it would be just as correct to describe it as a bit of bizarre comic surrealism. Your reaction to that “short description” is probably a good indicator of your potential enjoyment of the music of Ernie and the Magic Shapes.
The band plays giddy, manic music in the grand tradition of Mr. Bungle, Mike Patton’s madcap band of style-benders, hopping from style to style, metal riffs to ska grooves to ambient soundscapes to psychedelic jams, like cartoon characters overstimulated on breakfast cereals and mild hallucinogenics.
Joining Fredericks in the band are dexterous finger-walker Erik “Mr. Pibb, The Ghetto Swan” Lawson on bass and Christos “Richie Zisco” Andrews, a drummer with Animal/Keith Moon-like energy and enthusiasm.
So there’s nobody named Ernie in the band. Ernie’s not a band member, but a “mythical character” whom the band members discuss with mock religious tones.
“A talking hamster told me Ernie was coming and that I needed to be prepared,” says Fredericks. “Ernie is the great reverser.”
The genre-mashing glee and puerile, scatological stoner humor are also reminiscent of the patron saint of technical virtuosity married to lowbrow humor: Frank Zappa.
Every Magic Shapes song is a wild, unpredictable, haphazard ride. “Ta Da” is a veritable mini-suite that veers from a slow, dramatic jazz fusion open into a snippet of a-ha’s “Take on Me,” to a palate-cleansing grindcore blast to a bossanova groove accompanied by Cookie Monster hardcore-style vocals.
“TPH” is a lyrically graphic song detailing the “the circumstances leading up to, and the process of using, a penis pump,” according to Fredericks. Like most of their songs, it’s a relatively complicated and tricky song, and it’s stupefying to imagine these smart and nerdy guys spending hours writing and practicing a song about a penis pump.
“Star Warz” is about one character from the movie franchise—and anyone with more than a passing familiarity to uber-geek culture might be able to guess which one.
That’s right, Boba Fett. (More specifically it’s about being slowly digested by the Sarlaac that dwells in the Great Pit of Carkoon … nerdiest song ever.) Musically, “Star Warz” is actually reminiscent of the James Bond theme but with occasional blast beats and dreamy psychedelic interlude.
The band members acknowledge that the many changes in their songs are often random and haphazard.
“It’s like heaving huge piles of feces at a wall and whatever sticks …” says Fredericks.
Many of the songwriting choices start as jokes, and Fredericks and Lawson develop the weirdo characters that populate their songs by joking around while they work together at a local sandwich shop.
And while the violent, frantic genre-hopping might be off-putting for many listeners, it can also be toonishly entertaining and witty. Borrowing an old joke about Nevada weather, Fredericks points out another upside: “If you don’t like what we’re playing, just wait a couple of seconds.”