October 01, 2005

Fishboy "Little D"

I went to a college that was saturated with guys who played acoustic guitar. I didn’t go to many parties when I was there; whenever I did, though, I would always see one of these guys walking around with his guitar, improvising songs on the spot to amuse his friends. It was a fascinating high-wire act to watch. Everyone wondered how long it would take for him to flub a chord or say something completely nonsensical in a failed attempt to make lines rhyme. Although the guy was clearly talented, no one ever thought that his gift for improvisation would lead to anything substantial. Even in his own eyes, he was just doing what he could to spice up the party and make people laugh. I tell you all of this because Fishboy’s debut album Little D feels like the kind of music that guy would make if he were given studio time and a backing band.

This is a good thing, by the way.

Eric Michener, better known as Fishboy, writes whimsical lyrics that often sound as if they were made up while the tape was rolling, shoehorned into rhyming couplets through sheer serendipity. One song begins with Michener singing about a jellyfish, only to switch topic halfway through and start singing about car crashes. He even sounds like he’s holding back laughter while he’s doing it! On “Our Escape,” he compares a pretty girl to his beloved hometown (the D in Little D stands for Denton, TX), only to tell her later on in the song that she looks like a “sea cow.” The chorus of “Quatro” boasts the kind of imagery that could only come from a potent LSD trip: “When the plastic falls into the lake/holographic people eating cake/will stop their fishing!”

Michener’s freewheeling lyrics are counterbalanced by the meticulously composed backdrops that his cast of nearly 20 musicians provides. “That’s a…Jellyfish” ends with a horn fanfare harmonious enough to make Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum cock an eyebrow, and “Start Again” climaxes with the weepy swell of a full-fledged string quartet. Corn Mo adds falsetto backing vocals to “Asian Grain,” and almost every other song on the record is filled with voices harmonizing with and shouting against Michener’s own. The overall effect suggests a hyperactive Tullycraft ransacking a high school band hall. The fact that Michener’s voice is just as thin and nasal as Sean Tollefson’s only sets such a comparison in cement.

It is also to Michener’s credit that his lyrics start making more sense as Little D progresses. “Banana Trees” is a touching attempt to lift the spirits of a sad, shut-in friend. “Gameboy” boasts the nerdiest metaphor ever employed for an unstable relationship: “We’re like two Gameboys in the sand/It’s all game when the water hits the land.” “A Surprise Return” is a tale of a Christmas tree who comes back to its former owner’s house after the New Year and refuses to leave. In “Start Again,” the protagonist’s head explodes, only to grow back before anyone else finds out. He becomes an amnesiac, and spends the rest of the song trying to remember the friends he had before he…well, lost his head. It doesn’t take long for Michener to get listeners acclimated to his skewed worldview. This, more than anything else, is why Little D succeeds as an album.

If the guy I talked about in the first paragraph was given the opportunity to make an album, he’d have to add substance to his improvisations to ensure replay value…and I’m not sure that he’d be able to do it. Michener, on the other hand, imbues many of his songs with deeper meanings that reveal themselves once the listener stops laughing.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.yofishboy.com
Label Website: http://www.businessdealrecords.com

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