Reviews

Enchanted Islands

Author: Tim McMahan
04/02/2009 | Thereader.com | www.thereader.com | Live Show Preview
There is a bipolar nature to Enchanted Islands, Beep Beep's just-released sophomore effort on Saddle Creek Records.

Half the 14 tracks are what you'd expect from the band that released the 2004 psycho-sexual freak-out debut, Business Casual. Yelping, pained vocals, hyper-acidic guitars, uncomfortable time changes, and disturbing lyrics that combine to produce a sense of jittery unease.

Then there's the other half organic, almost-traditional soft-rock and country-influenced ballads sporting doe-ear-soft natural and falsetto vocals, glowing guitars and instruments that include accordion, Rhodes and Wurlitzer, even a touch of harmonica, wrapped in a rhythm section straight out of Fleetwood Mac.

When I heard these softer, gentler tracks over a year ago I didn't recognize the band. Enchanted Islands is a breakthrough for Beep Beep, a handshake between its brash Gang of Four-flavored past and a Roxy Music/Kate Bushian future.

But the future has been uncertain since the band finished touring Business Casual in the spring of 2005. In four years, Beep Beep has seen an almost total change of personnel, leaving one original member from a band formed in 2001 from the ashes of other bands whose members (including Conor Oberst and Todd Fink) would go on to define the first high-water mark for Saddle Creek Records.

Though drummer Mike Sweeney and bass player Joel Petersen were the core of the rhythm section, the heart of Beep Beep has always been guitarist/vocalist Eric Bemberger (a.k.a. Eric Ray) and guitarist/vocalist Chris Hughes (a.k.a. Chris Terry)
Sweeney was first to leave the band, shortly after the '05 tour.

Bemberger and Hughes wrote the next album's material, using a computer for the initial drum parts.

By the fall of 2007, first drafts were finished for some songs, although Peterson had yet to provide bass parts.

"Joel just wasn't writing," Bemberger said. "Then he fired himself, saying he didn't really know how to contribute to the songs because he didn't understand them and was busy being the engineer at The Faint's new studio."

Meanwhile, Hughes was overwhelmed with his job selling insurance.

"Chris then found this collectible and antique assessment company that he's doing a wonderful job with now," he said. "His contributions fell off sharply as well. So it was me writing all this music and hoping for someone else to contribute some bass parts that I could write a second guitar part off of."

At first, A.J. Mogis (ARC Studios, Criteria) agreed to play bass, but two weeks before studio time Mogis hadn't written a note. Darren Keen, creative force behind one-man act The Show Is the Rainbow, stepped up.

"The whole time, Darren said, 'I know I'm not a bass player, but just say the word.' He didn't even own a bass; it's not his first instrument but he's turned out to be one of the best bass players I know now. He pulled through amazingly."

Ben Armstrong (Head of Femur) played drums for the recording, with Petersen behind the knobs. Bemberger and Hughes consciously tried not to replicate the style heard on Business Casual.

"We didn't really want to limit or define Beep Beep as some sort of particular aesthetic, and were turned off by the misconception that the last record was this aggressive, masculine statement, which wasn't our intention at all," Bemberger said. "That coupled with an infatuation of all things Kate Bush and the idea that no matter what the musical context, the vocals would be smooth, for lack of a better word."

The band intended to record 23 songs.
"Chris was leaning on the idea that this was going to be the last record, so let's release it all," Bemberger said.

The last day of recording was Hughes' last day in the band.

"We had just got (the record) done and mastered, and then the Chris information (his quitting) came up and it wiped me out I certainly thought it was the end of things."

He called on James Reilly, frontman for Lincoln band Pharmacy Spirits. "He jumped right into it and spent many hours and many weeks learning the music."

Beep Beep's touring line-up consists of Bemberger, Keen, Reilly and drummer Ian Francis of Lincoln band Machete Archive. The band played South by Southwest in March and will tour through April. A European tour comes later this year.
Some questioned why the band continued when Hughes departed.

"For me, Beep Beep isn't a band or identity or a pair of humans or one human," Bemberger said. "It's an entity that needs humans to propel it. I'm not too particular who they are as long as they understand it. The decision to continue was a combination of me having to deal with too many obstacles to give up seeing this project to its end, and just my desire to give it a chance." ,

Beep Beep plays with The Show Is the Rainbow and Cat Island, Saturday, April 4, at The Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St. Showtime is 9 p.m. Admission is $7. For more information, visit waitingroomlounge.com.


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