Ross Beach – You Make it Look So Easy

Ross Beach
You Make it Look So Easy

Ross Beach’s music career reads like one of those old Marvel Comics “What If”s: As a bassist for The Gerbils and a live guitarist for Neutral Milk Hotel, and friend of Rob “Apples in Stereo” Schneider, Ross had to choose partway through his college career between getting a degree and helping to found the legendary Elephant Six Collective – and chose college. I can’t imagine which would be more frustrating: having to constantly compare one’s own musical endeavors against the ridiculously beloved and successful collective all your old college friends founded, or, inevitably, being compared to those same friends every time someone finds out you toured with Jeff Mangum. In fact, those looking for more fuzz-folk or psychindiedelia are looking in the wrong place; Ross Beach has his feet firmly planted in straightforward pop territory. The good news, however, is that he knows what he’s doing.
The 17 tracks on You Make it Look So Easy are folk- and country-tinged pop songs, not entirely dissimilar to some of the Magnetic Fields’ less synthy jaunts, all with Beach’s strong voice dominating the mix. What distinguishes the songs from other music of this ilk that’s come before are Beach’s lyrics, which have a tendency to toe the line separating “honest” and “goofy.” While he is not entirely inaccurate in describing a sensation common to many nervous romantics – starting a song with the line, “I’m probably gonna vomit when you walk in the room,” and keeping to that thread, unironically, throughout “In Like With You” – is perhaps too much a knee-jerk reaction to both Pavementesque lyrical irony and twee-pop syrup-thick wordsmithing. Similarly, wondering whether one prefers people or sheep on “I Prefer Sheep,” without any noticeable trace of metaphor or tongue-in-cheek is a disconcerting choice to have made, and one that leaves me a little cold.
But these songs are not the norm, and most of the album consists of songs that are just off-kilter enough for their own good – such as “Step Put into the Sun,” which wouldn’t have been out of place on REM’s Out of Time, and the melancholy, almost uncharacteristically wistful “It Won’t Matter / Oh the Humanity.” Seventeen songs might be a little ambitious, but the album clocks in at just over 40 minutes, and the occasional clunker aside, it feels like the right length.
While Ross Beach doesn’t quite manage to top his previous efforts with The Gerbils (to compare his work to that of Jeff Mangum, with whom Beach only ever toured, would be patently unfair and misleading), he showcases a knack for penning songs with a consistent feel and intelligence. The album’s greatest stumbling block, aside from the previously mentioned lyrical missteps, is likely a lack of memorable melodies or riffs – but I trust that, within time, Ross Beach will come up with something really excellent. For now, this is an unexpected and pleasant surprise from the camp of someone who was ballsy enough to take book-learnin’ over a musical collective, and if country-fried indie pop is your bag, you’d do well to check out You Make it Look So Easy.