Beep Beep – Enchanted Islands

Beep Beep - Enchanted Islands

Beep Beep - Enchanted Islands

What is the difference between a difficult album, and one that grows on you after repeated listens? The latter phrase seems to come out of my mouth pretty frequently, and I wonder how much my words really extend another’s patience.  Let’s face it, repeated listens require certain circumstances — artists you already like, an album that comes highly recommended, or something you have no choice but to listen to repeatedly for reasons beyond your control. Difficult is usually reserved as a pejorative for a work that seems to be willfully obtuse or artistically pretentious, as if the artist is trying to prove that they’re specially talented or disinterested in being liked. In other words, the difficulty originates within the artist, while the more positive-spinning “grows on me” is centered on the listener.  This way of explaining things seems like a textbook case of self-serving bias, congratulating the self for successes while blaming failures on external factors. That’s okay though, because it happens to everybody and operates at the unconscious level. But being aware of these human decision-making illusions is a good starting point for personal growth.

As I listened to Beep Beep’s new album Enchanted Islands for the first time, the first thing I thought was “Geez, this sounds difficult.” While there’s truth to the idea that something that sounds difficult is probably recognized as such by its creators, the benefit of the doubt needs to be extended to the artist. They probably aren’t just doing what they’re doing to be perceived as willfully obtuse, but instead expect their difficult music to “grow on” its listeners. Mindful of the human tendency toward self-serving bias, I flew the red flag over myself, and in the spirit of personal development, I said “Let it grow.”

Enchanted Islands as a whole utilizes quite a few qualities that will be considered “difficult” to the lazy listener. Herky-jerky guitar runs and time signatures, atonality, spastic rhythm outbreaks, whispered falsetto vocals, and songs that don’t follow predictable structures like verse-chorus-verse or slowly layered intensification. However, these elements are balanced throughout by the sheer plasticity of the guitar playing (and mangling), tight drumming, and frequently groove-minded bass runs.

The album starts off with two tracks that really push the blurty-sounding dissonant elements, recalling cacaphonists Sweep the Leg Johnny and any number of angular post-punkers, and the listener would be excused for thinking they were in for an exhausting listen over the next twelve tracks. But, Enchanted Islands turns out to be a diversely styled work that is better considered as a whole, with most of the individual tracks working more effectively as frames for specific ideas and moods than as standalone pieces. Just when you get used to the spastic klang, they bring out a noisy post-punk number like “Secrets of the Well”, then a chiming song full of brooding chords and a slight country feel like “Return to Me”, followed by “The Whispering Waves” which sounds like The Fixx or early-80’s Yes, and then a slow-burning organ ballad like “The Lion’s Mouth”. Stick around for the second half and you’ll hear a warped-speed piano-led number called “Wooden Nickels”, the simple heartfelt plea of “I Miss You”, the indie-blues number “Mortal Warrior”, the bittersweet soft-rock of “Baby Shoes”, another raucous shape-shifter in “Two-Spirit”, and a drum-machine lullaby to wrap things up. This ambitious approach reminds me of Function’s great eclectic album The Secret Miracle Fountain and Fugazi’s klangy, geometric experimentation on End Hits.

The singing is also varied throughout. Overall it is quite understated, as if content to be overshadowed by the music. A closer look at the lyrics shows this album to be a more complex beast. There is a common theme of some sort of relationship disintegrating and subsequent abandonment, with mention of marriages, vows, children, and so on. The words seem to document the cognitive dissonance experienced in the aftermath of such a displacement. Knowing all this puts the somewhat schizophrenic qualities of the music in a new light and makes the tide of styles and moods — and their sudden shifts and changes — seem like a logical compliment to — and somewhat of a needed distraction from — the cascade and sudden shifts of mood that accompany such interpersonal upheaval. After listening without paying much attention to the words, the whole project seems much richer in this conflicted context.

This album definitely flows. And flows and flows and flows. It’s like the music is made up of many different currents flowing in their own directions, sometimes colliding to produce strange choppy vibrations and undercurrents, and other times flattening out into lulling waves. What unites all of the disparate elements of Enchanted Islands is a fearless commitment to eclecticism, fine musicianship, and an adventurous sense of composition. So listener, before you call it difficult, see if you can meet Beep Beep halfway and commit yourself to eclecticism, fine musicianship, and a daring sense of composition. It’s not really that much to ask of a music lover, so go ahead and throw on Enchanted Islands and let yourself grow.

Beep Beep

Saddle Creek