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Beat by Bowery Electric (Review)

It is challenging, but digging underneath the surface could just reveal some interesting tidbits.
Beat - Bowery Electric

This is the kind of album my roommate absolutely despises. And for awhile there, I almost agreed with him. Not that I ever hated this album, but it didn’t really seem to meet my expectations. I had read email from several people fawning over this group, comparing them Slowdive and Seefeel, both groups that I greatly love. When I heard that Bowery Electric came out with a new album, I hopped on down to my local record store, got it, came home, listened to it, and… was disappointed.

The songs seemed too sparse, like mere skeletons of songs. It was almost as if Bowery Electric had forgotten to mix in a few instruments and tracks during the final stages of production. I just never seemed to get into it. So it sat on my bookshelf for awhile. Then, after reading some more emails hailing this CD as a work of genius, I decided to listen to it some more, to see if there was something that I might have missed. There must have been, because there’s some stuff on here that I really dig. (Okay, okay. So I’m swayed by popular opinion, but I digress…)

The album opens up with “Beat,” which is, appropriately enough, dominated by the sampled loop of a hip hop-esque beat, complete with the vinyl scratchy sound. Many of the songs on this album utilize the same style of beats, adding a very nice dynamism to the album, hence the album name, I’d assume. A groovy bassline comes in and Martha Schwendener’s lethargic vocals intoning “Words are just noise. Words are only noise.” and Spiritualized-esque drones in the background. “Empty Words” is more along the lines of what I thought Bowery Electric would be like with shimmering walls of guitars billowing around with Martha’s tired vocals rambling about.

But sometimes this album seems to be on the border of pretentious, with some of the tracks seeming to go nowhere. Sometimes they sound just fine, but at other times they just sound like the group threw them in there to take up space. For example, “Under The Sun” is simply a reverberating bassline among swirling clouds of static and muted noise.

Late at night, it’s a glorious thing. The bass just seems to echo on forever, stretching out time until the song seems to have lasted longer than its 3 and a half minutes would imply. In that sense, it’s great. But on other occasions, for other people, it could easily be annoying. “Looped” is much the same way, with what sounds like a bell ringing out across a still plain. Late at night, when listening to it through headphones, it seems great. But sometimes, it’s just so boring. It feels like something should be happening, but when it does, the song is already over.

But the supreme example of this is the final track. “Postscript,” to me, just doesn’t seem to go anywhere. I’ve sat and listened to it all the way through, but it grows very tedious to listen to loops, which don’t seem very interesting, over and over again. It’s nice for very unobtrusive late night computering, but that’s because there’s nothing there to grab your interest.

All in all, I found this album to be somewhat hit and miss. It does have some great material on there, like the aforementioned “Empty Words.” “Fear of Flying” is another beauty, with shimmering cascades of guitars looped over a very catchy and almost danceable beat and bassline. “Coming Down” feature both Martha and Lawrence Chandler on vocals and is very remiscent of Slowdive’s male/female vocal tandem, but with a somewhat more ominous bent to it.

For the most part, I like this album, but I don’t really know why. It wasn’t at all what I expected and in some ways, kind of let me down. However, I find myself bringing this album with me to listen to at work quite a bit. Maybe it’s the groovy basslines and beats that they employ in some of these songs. There is definitely some interesting material on this album, so it isn’t a total loss. But I would greatly suggest you go out and listen to it before you buy it. Most people will find this album boring and repetitive, and I can understand. I struggled with this album, but it has grown on me and might on you. It is challenging, but digging underneath the surface could just reveal some interesting tidbits.

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