Reviews

Enchanted Islands

Author: Sasha Hnatkovich
02/23/2009 | Metro.pop | www.metrodotpop.com | Album Review
After the 2004 release of Beep Beep's debut album Business Casual (Saddle Creek), the music media often compared this Omaha quartet's aggressive guitar-driven dance punk sound to art rockers XTC and Kate Bush, as well as '70s post-punkers Gang of Four and the Wire. However, the band sounded more like an amalgam of label-mates Cursive and the Faint, whose musicians had collaborated with Beep Beep's members in previous short-lived creative projects. Business Casual was largely panned, or, at most generous, deemed a mixed bag. Mike Krolak wrote in Prefix, "Business Casual is only twenty-eight minutes long, but it's a trying twenty-eight minutes." Brian Howe wrote on Pitchfork, "One can't accuse Beep Beep of being lackluster or uninspired. Business Casual is fierce and competent but its affectations are so grating that it's tough to make it through it all in a single listen. Beep Beep's songs have a certain keening shrillness that will leave all but the hardiest nerves frazzled and jangling."

Five years and many, many roster changes later, Beep Beep will release their sophomore Enchanted Islands on Saddle Creek in March. Whittling 32 songs down to 14 (20 if you get the limited run Surrounding Islets bonus disc), Beep Beep has created another album likely to be panned or deemed a mixed bag. The aggression is gone and the New Wave atmospherics that seem to permeate every rock release these days has been absorbed discernibly into almost every track—making comparisons to XTC, et al, more viable. The guitar riffs jangle cleanly, often in a mathy cascade of notes dispatched at speed metal tempos, sounding like any Barlow-project 12" spun at 45 RPM. Saddle Creek's marketing materials are calling Enchanted Island "an emasculated masterpiece," and "a delicate, disjointed voyage in the spirit of Ruiz's Three Crowns of the Sailor."

The comparison of the album to an obscure French film that is famous for its fractured storytelling, leaving the viewer adrift without mooring, is apt. Enchanted Islands opens strongly with the short, creepy intro "I See You!," in which the listener is introduced to songwriter (and only remaining original member) Eric Ray Bemberger's newfound falsetto as it matches the guitar's high register note for note. "Mermaid Struggle" attacks with sparkling ferocity, while the messy disco "Secrets for the Well" contains many of the dance-punk ideas of the previous release without any of the sharp edges. The country-tinged ballad "Return to Me" might be one of best, most accessible songs on the album. Then, the release tumbles into a jumble of genre caricatures whose only anchor is its incongruent songs, nerve-pinching falsetto and out-of-place New Wave textures (extraneous percussion flourishes [usually electronic], laughable panpipe and embarrassing baritone backing vocals), the lowest point being the abysmal piano ballad "Wooden Nickels."

Like its predecessor, Enchanted Islands is a confounding mess that will likely disappoint old fans, Saddle Creek loyalists and more critics than just me.


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