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The Brooklyn-via-Denton, Texas, duo of Jason Kelly and Andrew Savage reached a bit into the past for their rock aliases, Fergus & Geronimo: Those are the names of the boy-gang leaders in the 1994 Irish film War of the Buttons. For musical refererences, the pair dug even deeper, into the ‘60s and ‘70s. Their Facebook page lists such disparate acts as The Four Tops, The Mothers of Invention, Van Morrison, The Chiffons, Sparks, and GG Allin. As a result of such dissimilar influences, the songs on Fergus & Geronimo’s home-recorded debut full-length can be, in Savage’s own words, “scatterbrained.” Fortunately, the affable charms outweigh the ramshackle release’s incohesion.
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Fergus & Geronimo’s playful, polyglot approach to songwriting brings to mind another duo: Flo & Eddie, ex-members of The Turtles and The Mothers of Invention who adopted pseudonyms as a result of contractual restrictions. Like Flo & Eddie, Fergus & Geronimo flit between doo-wop, folk, psych, soul, garage, and novelty with ungainly grace. “Powerful Lovin’” could easily pass for a lost Stax side, with Savage’s vulnerable growl and backing falsetto vocals conveying heartbreak without a trace of irony. On the following track, “Baby Boomer,” the two use odd tempo changes and a singsong delivery to skewer both the self-importance of the Me Generation and the self-pity of subsequent age groups, as exemplified by a mid-song, half-spoken runaway letter. While the past is important to Fergus & Geronimo, with Unlearn they’ve created an idiosyncratic musical world that’s their own, as immediately evidenced by the jangly, fuzzy, and infectious opener, “Girls With English Accents.”
The pair has a caustic side, too. Take “Wanna Know What I Would Do?” and its scene-bashing lyrics: “I’d teach the world to sing a song or two/In a universal language that really doesn’t exist/But the hippies had you humming from the start, you phony kid.”
Fergus & Geronimo aren’t exactly anti-social types, however. They recruited Elyse Shrock to sing on the doo-wopper title track, and other friends to play flute and saxophone. They may be up in their treehouse making music that’s sophisticated and slapdash, but unlike their bellicose namesakes, at least they’ve dropped down a rope ladder.