Finally, 30 years after their self titled debut album, lo-fi indie pop rockers, BeatHappening, have graced us with their latest offering.
A career spanning 23-track compilation album for those die hard fans of the k records era.
How can you tell when a band has really ‘made it’ in the music industry? I guess one way of knowing is when Nirvana front man and all time rock legend, Kurt Cobain, decides to get a tattoo of your record label on his forearm. Pretty cool right? Well, to be honest, everything about this Washington 3 piece screams cool. I felt myself becoming cooler and cooler the more I listened. By the end of the album I felt like strapping on some leather boots, grabbing my granddads cane and strutting down the street with a cigar in my mouth whilst winking at people. Hmm, maybe that’s a little over the top, but I still felt cool nonetheless.
Its hard to believe that a simple 3 chord guitar strumming pattern, a drum beat and a sometimes out of tune baritone lead singer, can create such an ambient and compelling story. But I think that is the beauty of it; the music and lyrics behind Beat Happening are so simple that it just works. The lyrics seam almost childish and naive, with splashes of innocence mixed throughout, but as you dive into them and really listen to what front man Calvin Johnson is saying, you begin to discover stories of love, hate and heartbreak. “She whispers me bye bye, she wants to see a boy cry, she wants to hear a boy sigh, she wants to see a boy lie, a tear ran down my spine.”
Tracks “Pine Box Derby” and “Hot Chocolate Boy” are enlightened with a more up beat and poppy vibe. However, through the midst of some monotonic vocals and a light flavored tambourine we find ourselves once again peering into the life of yet another love story. I found it quite refreshing when co founding member of the band, Heather Lewis, blessed us with her vocals on the track “Fortune Cookie Prize”. A much softer and smoother vocal compared to her usual front man, I must admit, it almost instantly made me slide back into my chair and relax. If you close your eyes and listen to Heather repeat her charmingly written lyrics you can slowly begin to daydream about summer days and your first crush. “Climb high, climb high, you’re my fortune cookie prize. Climb high, climb high, you’re my fortune cookie prize”.
For me, the standout track of the album would have to be the 1988 classic “Indian Summer”. It begins with a twangy strum of the guitar, closely followed by a brilliant 4 verses of true storytelling, accompanied by a very light and minimal drum pattern throughout. In this arrangement, Johnson opts’ to go for a slower spoken word delivery, almost drone like, rather than his regular unorthodox, unpredictable singing technique. Prepare yourself for a journey. You can almost feel yourself travelling through the song with the members of the band, each verse acting as a different destination in Johnsons’ bizarre imagination. Meanwhile, the lyrics are purposely left broad enough so that the listener is left enough room to create their own interpretation of the tale. “What is that cheerful sound? Rain falling on the ground, we’ll wear a jolly crown, buckle up, we’re wayward bound”.
All in all, I think it’s safe to say that Beat Happening are a truly remarkable band. The pioneers of lo fi / alternative pop rock, seem to not give a shit about what anyone thinks of them. They won’t change for anyone, nor should they. If you struggle to enjoy music about love tales, romance, falling in love and broken hearts then Beat Happening are probably not the ones for you. But I do warn you; their sounds can be addictive. Listen to a couple of tracks from the album and you will find yourself feigning for more. So what’s next for Beat Happening? Are we about to witness a resurgence of the Olympians? New music? How would they compare to the Courtney Barnett’s and King Krule(s) of the world? We can only wait and see…
Look Around is available now as a digital download on iTunes or as a vinyl double LP, CD and cassette via Domino Recordings.
Artist: Beat Happening
Album Title: Look Around
Label: Domino Recordings
Genre: Indie Rock
Moments Of Stand Out: Indian Summer
This review was written by: Jake