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the pathetic caverns - music by artist - Beauty Pill

eclectic reviews and opinions

Beauty Pill

The Unsustainable Lifestyle

(Dischord Records, 2004)

I started organizing my thoughts about this record -- my favorite of the year so far -- before I wrote anything down. I usually do that.

I was formulating a piece that might actually please the good folks at Dischord, if they read it (or if they cared much about their press). I was deliberately not going to mention how the specter of F----- continues to overshadow music released by the label. I was going to point out that Chad Clark's lyrics of alienation, unease, and cognitive dissonance -- like "You deplore the methods and you thrive on the results" (from "The Mule on the Plane") or the even more pointed "Terrible things, they are gonna happen/This record's over, so why not go outside and stop them?" -- fit Dischord's core values, even if the music is free of the jackhammer rhythms and exaggerated dynamic shifts that sonically define the label for many. (The Unsustainable Lifestyle offers cognitive, more than aural dissonance -- I can't avoid thinking "pretty" when I try to describe "Quote Devout Unquote" or "I'm Just Gonna Close My Eyes for a Second.")

I had a coy music-as-architecture metaphor for how hard it is to pigeonhole Beauty Pill stylistically, something like, "To say the bent chorused chords of 'Such Large Portions!' recall My Bloody Valentine may be accurate, but it's about as useful as saying that the east portico is faced with green tile without revealing whether a building is a school, a church, or a mortuary."

(Along the same line: the interweaving male/female harmony parts and the ... stately, for want of a better word . . . quality of the melodies reminds me in a very weird way of Ida, if you can imagine an alternate universe in which Ida evolved from a hardcore band. It's also been suggested to me that Beauty Pill's combination of smart lyrics with a knack for embedding bona fide hooks in unconventionally structured songs might appeal to folks who liked Game Theory/Loud Family or similar bands.)

I was going to work in a reference to Clark's former band Smart Went Crazy while de-emphasizing similarities between the two, and slip in an aside that Beauty Pill (on tour as I write this) is a phenomenally good live act. I might even include a bit about the minor epiphany I once had watching bassist Basia Andolsun. She did something I'd never heard before. It wasn't showy or technically difficult, but it pulled the instrument completely out of the rhythm section for a handful of notes and exploited its melodic potential in a strikingly creative way.

But you know what? Fuck all that. It's all true, as far as it goes, but it's just a veneer over my real reaction.

'Cause Beauty Pill is playing Cambridge, Mass. on a night I've got a gig myself, and that knowledge is like a ball of crumpled plastic in my stomach: heavy, sick-making, and unmoving. It's not just that moving 500 miles wasn't enough to escape my personal Dischord curse -- given how often our respective bands played, my old band was booked the same night as F----- more than seemed strictly probable. It's that this is the kind of music I really wish I was making. Balancing challenge and accessibility. Surprising. Smart. Fundamentally in opposition to the status quo on multiple levels. Questioning, but not necessarily offering answers. Melodically compelling without pandering or stooping to the obvious.

But I'm doing something completely different. And as satisfying this record and my band both are in many different ways, only one of them forces me to wonder if it might not be my lifestyle that's unsustainable.

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