It takes astute musicians to achieve consistent track-by-track diversity on a record. In my recollection, one of the best times that’s been achieved — where each track sounds unmistakably different from the others — is on an album by a band named after shit.
Fecal-related parlance only exists in their album title and band name; it doesn’t carry over to the songs’ titles (except on the first one, where the band name is mentioned): this is Poopsticks Loopsticks by The Poopsticks, their debut and sole album under that moniker. The cover art, albeit without any illustrations of poop, isn’t all that appealing either: a shot of the upper-half of an extremely hairy back and neck. Besides Poopsticks Loopsticks, The Poopsticks have a non-album single called “Jimmy Pants,” and a music video for it is available on YouTube; additionally, while the material on the band’s album hasn’t any public music videos, there exist a few album trailers (this and this). The videos visually evidence the goofy and un-serious attitude inherent to The Poopsticks, their subtle quirks indicating a seeming myriad of inside jokes between the members and their friends.
The Poopsticks are an esoteric, humorous musical project from Brooklyn that hasn’t released anything since 2009, yet their Poopsticks Loopsticks is actually a worthwhile, all-around fantastic album.
Although The Poopsticks’ players aren’t known for their comedy skills, they happen to be professional musicians in the New York jazz circuit, so their musical skills render Poopsticks Loopsticks as a complex and enticing listen. But by infusing off-kilter, goofy concepts, The Poopsticks also maintain a hilarity throughout the album. Two of the main Poopsticks are Bryan Murray and Scott Anderson, respectively saxophonist and guitarist/bassist. (Note: They’re the only main members with full names, according to the credits on The Poopsticks’ Bandcamp; the other two are nicknamed, percussionist Plaidworthy and pianist Cat. Guest artists are also featured on the album, all listed with full names in the credits.)
Murray was a part of the touring horn section backing St. Vincent and David Byrne at the time of the two’s collaborative album, Love This Giant. On his own, he leads Bryan And The Haggards, an outfit that does jazz renditions of Merle Haggard, lauded by both The New York Times and The Boston Globe. Scott Anderson has played with seminal jazz guitarists like Toninho Horta and Bobby Broom, and he provided music for the 2007 documentary For The Bible Tells Me So. Somehow, somewhere, Murray and Anderson bonded and came up with the idea to form a loose-natured comedic music ensemble, with a scatological twist.
Poopsticks Loopsticks begins with the self-proclaiming track “We Are The Poopsticks.” On it, Murray takes a solo and Anderson shreds one a little later: their sleights are introduced. A tracklist fraught with entertaining pastiches unfolds — there’s a power ballad in the vein of Night Ranger; Reggie Watts-like a capella fuckery; petulant dance pop that could’ve been excavated from a Radio Disney archive — but even though Poopsticks Loopsticks holds an eclectic repertoire, a relaxed, giggly spirit remains throughout.
“Oh Mo Don’t Go” is hilarious in its blatantness, avoiding grandiloquent language and being forthright about the sadness felt toward the imminent departure of a friend, Mo, who’s planning on pursuing cartoon animation in California. It’s simply the singer trying to convince Mo to not move out of Brooklyn, or at least reconsider the decision. “Just wait a minute, can we talk about it? Can we weigh all the pros and cons [of California]?” which they do during the next line: “Pro! The good weather. Con! The earthquakes.” As the chorus belts “Don’t go to California!,” ultra-ballad soft rock subsumes everything. “Oh Mo Don’t Go” crosses a maudlin, Night Ranger-y sound with unadorned wordsmanship.
Poopsticks Loopsticks’s centerpiece (the featured track on the group’s Bandcamp) is “The Pippy Poppy Song.” An auto-harmonized vocal salvo varies between pippy’s and poppy’s for a good minute, then a high-pitched, childish voice beckons, “It’s time to sing ‘The Pippy Poppy Song!’” Groove ensues and multiple high-pitched voices chant the song title over a loop of a screaming arena audience. Saccharine and innocuous on its surface, there are subtle instances of off-putting remarks within “The Pippy Poppy Song!,” like this fleeting cry for help: “Lots of distant lands, faraway places/ I wanna go home, hey!” This is disregarded a millisecond later, as the high-pitched troupe segues right back into the song title chant seamlessly.
The Poopsticks’ distinct dialectic trait is their affinity for gibberish and absurd titles: “Bow Robby Hoerop,” “Farbee Dar,” “Scratchy Scratchy Hey,” among others. While, again, these tracks feel like inside jokes, they’re funny titles — or at least I think they are. What does “Farbee Dar” even mean? It’s great! (By the way it’s vocalized on recording, “Farbee Dar” sounds like something to come from the mouth of Flash Bazbo, National Lampoon Radio Hour’s slurry, fairly-askew galactic hero.) Even when their words are more familiar and sensible, the imagery is absurd, which applies to “Your Mother Is In My Backyard.” Hard to tell if it’s innuendo or a phrase created during a game of Cards Against Humanity. It’s 12 minutes of laid-back improvisation, and halfway in, the players agree on a progression to sustain till the end, finishing Poopsticks Loopsticks at their jazziest.
Ostensibly not directed at anyone in particular, a sentence in the album’s Bandcamp notes reads, “You’re the kind of person that breaks his poopsticks into smaller poopsticks just so he can have more poopsticks.” The quote’s interpretation of “poopstick,” though, doesn’t align with online temple of vulgarities Urban Dictionary’s: to paraphrase the top definitions on that site, a “poopstick” is a stick-like apparatus used to divide a feces into more flushable parcels (in contrast to how it isn’t clarified what divides the feces in the aforementioned quote). So maybe there isn’t an exact definition of “poopstick” — maybe it’s meaning is intended to be open in the way that their music can be simultaneously dance pop, free-form jazz, soft rock, etc. Poopsticks Loopsticks is undoubtedly a diverse listen, a bona fide pungent treasure.