The Appalachian Mountains have always sheltered a motley assortment of different lives: criminals, moonshiners, rounders, musicians, poets, and soldiers. During the 1920s, the Piedmont style of blues gained some national attention, with such musical oddballs as Luke Jordan and Charlie Poole popularizing the uniquely hillbilly brand of devil-may-care posturing. Then, by the time the ‘50s rolled around, Appalachia exploded with rockabilly fervor, cultivating such vivacious rockers as Hasil Adkins and Carl Perkins. In summation, Appalachia, especially the part that runs through West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, produces some bluesy, funky, and damn good music.
False Pterodactyl, a duo who calls both the northern city of Morgantown, West Virginia and its UFO-haunted cousin Flatwoods, WV home, is no exception to the Appalachian tradition. The Shanghaied EP, the duo’s first ever release, is a bluesy, hard-rocking five-song Extended Play that has all the grooves and all the right moves. Amazingly, John Jacob, the vocalist, guitarist, and harmonica maestro for False Pterodactyl, plays an acoustic guitar on Shanghaied EP. What makes this so incredible is the tone he achieves — a distorted, fuzzy, and very Dan Auerbach-like timbre. Josh Ratliff, the man behind the percussion, is no slouch either, and Shanghaied EP is a noticeably pounding recording. Keep that fact in mind when you put your speakers in your ears via the magic of headphone technology.
“Heavy Bop,” the first track, is an appropriately named song combining groove and bounce with a tough riff that sounds perfect for a drag race in Hell. False Pterodactyl have a retro cool, and “Heavy Bop” just might be the best example of this, daddy-o. Although a short jaunt, “Heavy Bop” is memorable because it sets the standard for False Pterodactyl’s psychobilly-cum-blueshound sound. “Hammer Down” is in the same vein, but it places a greater emphasis on the blues, the original mother and father of all rock ‘n’ roll. “Hammer Down” tells the story of one man’s bad day at the races, and it contains a line worthy of Johnny Cash: “so I shot him in the face.” This cool, dark, and predatory feeling is ever-present on Shanghaied EP, a record alluding to criminality with its very title.
Speaking about the darker impulses inherent in mankind, “Feast,” the fourth track, is a delightfully carnivorous song that makes man sound like beast. Besides referencing pork and beans (a dish favored by many bluesmen, past and present), “Feast” sinks its jowls into a meaty riff sounding like Mississippi John Hurt playing stoner rock. “Feast” is a hepcat canine that thoroughly enjoys reading crime novels in between swallows of D.G. Yuengling & Son. The brother of “Feast,” alias “Blueblood,” shares a sibling resemblance. “Blueblood” is a little more vindictive than its older brother, but this bubbling rage is channeled through a mini instrumental odyssey that has plenty of harmony.
The only track on Shanghaied EP that deviates from this structure of blues rock danger is “Hi-Top Fade,” a punk rock song making good use of the harmonica. “Hi-Top Fade,” besides being a recently reborn hairstyle, is a jittery, surreal track digging inside of a caffeine freak’s coffee black mind. Even the guitar solo on “Hi-Top Fade” sounds like something straight out of a Starbucks contraption, or, better yet, a malfunctioning espresso maker at Jay’s Daily Grind. Whatever the analogy, “Hi-Top Fade” delivers like Colin Kaepernick in the crunch.
Essentially, that’s what Shanghaied EP is: a bluesy rock records that stays in the pocket and sticks to the game plan. False Pterodactyl are unlikely to transform their sound anytime soon simply because it’s a simple, yet powerful sound. For some reason rock ‘n’ roll forgot about the blues over a decade ago, and indie rock, as rock ‘n’ roll’s over-educated offspring, seems to have little patience for poor people music about trials and tribulations. I pity them. False Pterodactyl prove that two Appalachian boys can make sweet sounds, especially when they mix the best of the past with the best of the present. Hopefully, the next time we hear them, False Pterodactyl will have a few more songs in their repertoire.
1. Heavy Bop
2. Hammer Down
3. Hi-Top Fade