WELCOME TO THE BEIGE
The Exterminating Angel
Will Be With You In a Moment...
Will Be With You In a Moment...
I swear to God, every time I finish listening to The Beige's El Angel Exterminador, I feel like I've just stepped out of a Douglas Adams book, say The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, not because the music is part science fiction but because is 'out there' and so damn right on. I think we've all come across those albums which, even though suspect, carry us away. For me, this is one.
Truth be told, if I'd heard the album one track at a time I would be hard-pressed to identify The Beige as one band. They are all over the place from one track to another and even within certain tracks and normally that would not be a good thing, but damned if these guys not only pull it off but pull it off magnificently. So magnificently, in fact, that every time I've sat down to write this (and there have been numerous attempts), I have been sucked into the belly of the beast, as it were, and ended up listening and not writing. I'm serious. In the late '60s and early '70s, writers would have said about this album, “This is heavy shit!”. I have no 21st Century equivalent, so I'll just say it. This is heavy shit! And without the band being all over the place, it might not be.
I wish I could say something like “it starts innocuously enough with...” but there is nothing innocuous about this album. Every note... every sound on this album belongs on this album. Let me start from the beginning:
Road: A sci-fi beginning, background music (almost sound effects) behind semi-spoken lyrics. On the first day/we got up early/pulled up roots/and nailed the doors shut gives way to They were waiting/They were waiting/They were eating something strange with a face/Meanwhile up the road aways... It is Night Gallery or One Step Beyond put to music, tuba and brass and a cinematic bouncing beat that is in juxtaposition to the lyrics. Keyboards carry the sci-fi feel through to the bridge which is full on rockin' jazz, rolling bass lines and chunking drums keeping the beat alive while guitar and keyboard build to the final verse and end. And this is just the beginning.
I Got a Job In the Belly of the Beast: The eerie continues. This is the track that brought me to The Beige--- slower, more daunting. I heard soundtrack in this, but I could have been wrong. I had just visited the website of the film, The Last Rites of Ransom Pride, and heard modern spaghetti western darkness in Belly of the Beast and I sent a note to the band to that effect. I begged for a review copy. They graciously sent one. This song has foggy cemetery and gun-toting dwarf all over it. Brooding and moody. Out there. This will be our favorite year/Yes. No. Long ago/The seasons changed and the TV was good/The days fell like apples. Out there, and unique.
King George: Accordion and electronic fade-in with plucked guitar and percussion. Just short of rap or hip hop, King George lopes like a slow motion running hippopotamus, percussion enhanced by rhythmic instrumentation and odd chord progression. Every time I hear this, I find myself nodding my head to plodding beat and singing the lead-in to the chorus internally--- This is King George. This is King George--- and waiting for what passes as a chorus but is more of a peak. It is trance culminating in cinematic crescendo and bridge full of chambered and otherwise guitar and keyboards weaving around one another. If this was theater, it would be Imax, but weird Imax.
The Exterminating Angel: Easily the most accessible song on the album, it is country rock ballad brilliance on the hoof. Songs like this are always hard to describe so I will capsulize it in one word: absolutely beautiful. One would think this would not fit in with the landscape laid out by the first three songs but it is a palate cleanser and perfectly sequenced. Note: Do not be deceived. This is neither better (nor worse) than the rest of the album, just more easily absorbed by the untrained ear.
Ponce de Leon: Trance-like Native American style drum (or heart) beat below brash plucked guitar and simple keyboard notes give way to an instrumental of magnitude. A great break in the action and a lead-in to...
Different Roads (Fall and Rise): The lounge side of Belly of the Beast is this. A dreamlike road uphill to an almost out of place chorus that is more major chord than one would think, then back to minors and sevenths (I think). As it builds to crescendo, I find myself waiting for a simple slide on what I assume is lap steel, placed in the song seemingly at random, giving an odd substance while the piano takes a classical jazz ride into the sunset, then back to chorus, verse and end. Whew.
Underground Is Waiting: Here we go. Driving jazz and bass with repeated-word vocal that builds toward a piledriving chorus. Who... Who do... Who do you... Get the idea? And the background is straight out of the jazz fusion of the mid-70s. The good jazz fusion. I don't listen to much jazz. Maybe if there was more like this, I would.
Este Pais: A trip south of the border, Beige-style. No, I'm not kidding. Think a mix of Mexico and Cuba, a Guantanamera of a slightly different flavor. Amazingly fitting and it adds to the whole idea of sequence-as-concept.
Fin: Ah, the finale. The Beige wraps the whole album up with an electronic collage through which an harmonic verse emerges before fading back into the depths. It is an eight minute trip which to an outsider may seem a bit long, but when you take it in context is an end to a dream.
I would love to give Rick Maddocks all of the credit for this, but I cannot. True, Maddocks wrote all of the songs but one (which he co-wrote) and he co-produced the album, but you cannot put together such a project this well on your own. Fellow musician Jon Wood deserves a big pat on the back for not only co-production but for musicianship above and beyond, and how could I not note the band after such a ride--- Andrew Arida (keyboards), Mark Haney (double bass, and a superb double bass, let me tell you), and drummers Geoff Gilliard and Glenn D'Cruze (Bravo, guys!). The cameo appearances? Essential. Now that I've said all that, let me add that Rick Maddocks has jumped to the top of my songwriters to watch list. The very top.
I have very few albums which do not rely on various individual tracks to keep my interest. To count them, it is fingers and maybe even fingers and toes time, but El Angel Exterminador joins a handful of sometimes esoteric but always cherished albums which I thoroughly enjoying hearing front to back and without interruption. Hey, I don't want to hear the individual tracks! Wait. That's not right. I do want to hear them, but not outside the context of the entire album. You might. In fact, I hope you do. That would at least mean that you were listening. And really listening because if you don't know these guys personally and get what they're doing, you have to be. This isn't background music. This is amazing.
Frank. O Gutch Jr.
(Frank Gutch Jr. writes and has written for numerous magazines and websites, presently including this blog, his own website and the prestigious Don't Believe A Word I Say site put together by musician and music pundit Bob Segarini, out of Toronto. He specializes in the Indies, having fought hand-to-hand combat with major record labels for decades (talk about zombies). He believes music should be the core of the music business, though business it mostly be, and denies the accepted reality in the stead of the artistic one. Seldom does he receive pay for articles and/or reviews and believes that there is no place for negatives in a world in which one cannot keep up with the positives. He is, in a sense, a lost soul in a sea of music, drowning, but drowning gratefully.)