Charlevoix – Begging Complication

Begging Complication

There is nothing in the world quite like getting to know a band’s sound and watching them grow up musically, so to speak. When I first saw Charlevoix play at the Detroit Contemporary (in all of it’s dilapidated exterior and glory), I was floored by the raw power and emotion that came from this three-piece. The tiny bass player busted out thick throbs, the drummer busted up his set in a manner worth of Animal from the Muppet Show, and the singer/guitarist overcame equipment problems galore to throw out beefy chords and some strong female vocal chops.
Charlevoix’s first EP was very representative of the basic qualities of that show – raw but meaty, with some strong, ear-grabbing vocal wails, powerful guitars, and a tight, deep rhythm section with heavy emo leanings. Over the following 15 months, however, the band’s live shows were peppered with new material, and Charlevoix grew to rely less and less on its original emo-based sound. The result of those 15 months of scattered touring and constant writing is the stellar Begging Complication, nine songs that weave a deep, intricate rhythm section together with buzzing guitars and strong female vocals into a technically proficient, math-oriented musical setting.
That’s not to say that Charlevoix doesn’t still rock, though, because Begging Complication most definitely chugs along with power to spare. The band’s original EP succeeded in achieving this mostly via the sheer talent of the musical performances themselves; on the new material, however, the strength comes via swirls of rhythmic pulses and changes that wind around and atop each other to create swells of power that owe as much to the songwriting as they do to the musical performances themselves.
A great example of this is “Even the Odds,” which morphs the opening stop-and-go rhythm into a ‘guitar pinwheel’ rhythm, where the picked-note guitar piece seems to whirl together so that every note sounds like it’s falling back into the others, creating an odd, circular sound. The track bounces back and forth between various stop-and-go rhythms and more descending, circular-sounding pieces, as Katy Carolan’s voice raises up against the rhythms all the way. Eventually, the rhythms cycle to a breaking point, when Carolan’s voice finally fights back against the track to close it out with an emotional bang.
Of course, the rest of the record isn’t short on highlights, either. “This Conversation Ensues” kicks off the album with an intense slab of throb and dissonance (the rhythm section and guitars seem to be fighting each other off as often as they’re trying to mesh sounds, and the result is a surprisngly smooth, though intensely conflicted attitude). The most straight-ahead rock moments on the disc come courtesy of the massive buildups of the consecutive tracks, “Chop Her” and “Last 36.” “Chop Her” tosses out catchy riffs like clowns with candy at a Memorial Day parade, while “Last 36” (the centerpiece of the band’s previously released EP) is still a raging ball emotion and intensity based lyrically around an inability to cut that last string of physicality that binds together former relationships (“Familiar feelings fill the air / A part of my life I’m not content to share / This is ours – don’t take that away”). Both tracks slowly build into massive codas fueled by the fact that Carolan explodes and vocally throttles them.
“Has Been” starts off as a rolling, lazy number that picks up steam courtesy of some buzzing rhythm guitars. There’s also a great moment where Carolan’s vocals (“Close your eyes / And don’t look at me that way”) sort of drift off into a simple, quick guitar lead that blends remarkably well into the song. A few other original EP tracks have been re-recorded here as well – “Falling Forward” (Dan Jaquint’s guide to playing the hell out of a drumset) and “The Year (I Lose My Mind),” which takes a delicate opening and turns it into a sustained rocker based on a flurry of stop-and-go rhythmic succesions. The mix on “Late Summer/Early Fall” is very much carried by Carolan’s voice, as the rhythm section and guitars seem a bit more subdued. By the time the backing track picks up, Carolan’s voice is cutting it to shreds.
Still, though, it seems that the real standout track of Begging Complication is “No Refrain,” which (in the first minute-and-a-half) shifts from quietly intense to atmospheric and finally, just flat out rocking in a very angular manner. The bridge focuses the intensity with a blast of machine gun drumming, while Carolan emotes, “I rewrote this too many times today / My ears are open, so what do you say?” After a brief respite, the bridge structure swings back to close out the song, though this time, Carolan closes out the song by declaring, “No chorus, no refrain / We’ll call it the end.”
Begging Complicatoin is one of those records that takes a bit of listening to. Charlevoix’s original EP was much more straight ahead musically, and as such, upon first listen, it was easy to get hooked on. With Complication, however, it takes multiple listens to really pick up on exactly how well everything on this album meshes in the end. The off-beat and unexpected rhythmic progressions scattered amongst these songs are very well put together, and that fact, coupled with Nikkie Margosian’s brutal bass sound and Katy Carolan’s strong, distinctive vocals, gives Charlevoix a unique niche in the intense/emotional math sound. Begging Complication is another one of those records that is ridiculously smart and rocking at the same time, and it definitely falls into the must-have category of recommendations.