LATE SEASON KIDS
Maturity is poison for rock artists… right?
Rock is youth and madness; the Beatles’ wild years in Hamburg, Little Richard abusing a piano bug-eyed and sweaty, hunchbacked Johnny Rotten spewing furious bile, Iggy Pop reopening last night’s wounds with a broken longneck, that idiot Jim Morrison showing off little Mister Mojo Risin’ on stage in Florida, the mudshark incident, the dove’s head incident, the peach truck incident, the Chelsea Hotel, Eddie Cochrane’s beautiful corpse in a twisted snarl of broken wreckage… all those wild-cool refutations of morality and mortality that pass into legend and make rock awesome….Right? And “maturity” means bloated concept albums, greed, mediocre solo records, participation in dubious supergroups, and a slow creative suffocation as addiction, family or boredom takes hold. Right?
Well, no. Because if you accept all the above as “rock,” you have to accept the other side of the coin too; an army of talented and immature grown children all with poor impulse control, suffocating on vomit, shot by fans, shot by their own hand, watching as their friends convulse and die on sidewalks, fathering legions of children unloved and unknown, bringing bathtubs into the recording studio, breaking up by fax, breaking up by hit single, breaking up by certified mail, throwing gargantuan tantrums over green M&Ms, bickering in public over writing credits and creative control… all the tragic, dull, prurient, and tiresome outbursts that stuff the groaning shelves of your average bookstore’s music section.
And, okay, if U2 or the Rolling Stones construe “maturity” as figuring out how to stamp out a “Stones Record,” a “U2 album” on cue, fine. Often boring, but fine. But there’s another way.
Maybe it’s because I’m 35 and no longer plausibly a “young adult” in any sense of the word – (hell, I just bought a Persian rug and could probably stand to make an appointment with Dr. Coldfinger) but these days I’d rather hear from artists whose need to compose and perform music doesn’t presuppose a deathwish or a formal profit-sharing and trademark & likeness clause.
Take for example Late Season Kids, the third LP offering from Boston quintet The Beatings. Maybe the album title has something to do with goat husbandry, but maybe instead it has something to do with people whose Doc Martens are older than some of their co-workers; e.g. people like me. I’m betting on the latter; early midlife crisis is the best explanation for songs which start off with “Lighten up, kid / Don’t you slit your wrists,” or “When I was young I thought I’d be dead by twenty-five / But my luck is bad so I’ve had to live out the last ten years of my life.”
Who are the Beatings? They are five thirty-ish musicians from Boston and New York who have been making noisy, melodic indie rock together since 1999. Their second full-length release, Holding Onto Hand Grenades (Midriff Records, 2006) was my favorite rock album of that year on the strength of five or six unbelievably great songs that called to mind Mission of Burma, early Sonic Youth, Galaxie 500 and the Pixies. Late Season Kids is more of the same, but… better. More concise. More interesting. More, ah, mature.
Long before ’80s revivalism was all the rage, The Beatings made no bones about their roots in post-punk and first-generation indie rock. Their stock in trade, like those influences, is edgy, scratchy, guitar-driven pop songs that thanks to generous bursts of noise and solid hooks walk the line between clatter and sweetness. Like Galaxie 500, Sonic Youth, and the Pixies, they even have a female bassist; apparently this is largely a Boston phenomenon. But this time, the band have expanded their sonic palette a little to include several aggressive hook-driven songs that recall Bob Mould (of Hüsker Dü and Sugar), a few epic touches that bring to mind Bruce Springsteen and the Arcade Fire (yes, really), and at certain points the skittish, sketchy guitar and manic vocals of Public Image Ltd’s Keith Levene and John Lydon.
I suppose to compare The Beatings to The Boss is to say that on Late Season Kids The Beatings are more confident, and have edited their songs more thoroughly, than before. The playing and performances are fully thought out, and all the big gestures hit the target. The middle of the album doesn’t sag, and no song sticks around long enough to wear out its welcome. And even if that last bit is very unBoss-like, it’s definitely indicative of a tight and professional group of musicians.
Musical proof of the band’s new self-assurance is right there in the “sha-la-las” that underpin the chorus on the album-opening “Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained”, and in the throat-tearing Black Francis scream and trainwreck ending that ends the same tune – The Beatings follow this up with two more rock-solid songs, the Bob-Mould bittersweet of “Bury You” and the world weary “Youth Crimes,” before slowing down with the measured gait of “The Sleeper is No Fool.”
Even the songs in the soft middle of the album, where most bands stick their filler, are consistently surprising – suddenly you realize that the kids in “All The Things Your Missing” are dangerously bored, needles are washing up on shore, and menace looms, and lonely-man rant of “Parts Per Notation” builds and builds into an arresting exultation: “I think she’s taking me home… please God, make her take me home.”
All in all, Late Season Kids is a better album than The Beatings’ last one, which was really good. In a just world, it would outsell the latest mediocrities from any dozen Pitchfork-approved artists you could name, and hopefully it will. The Beatings are a band just beginning to hit their stride, and the fact that their latest album is better than their last one in measurable, identifiable ways, suggests that their next record will be their Let it Be… the Beatles or Replacements, take your pick.
I was a bit late to discover The Beatings unfortunately, as my first exposure to the band was their excellent release Holding on to Hand Grenades in ’06. By that point the band was already on their 5th release. However, their noisier post-punk leanings were certainly pleasing to the ear and pretty much every song hit the ground running that easily got my blood pumping. And now, after dispersing and working on various other projects for the last couple years, The Beatings are back with their next record Late Season Kids which is set to be released through Midriff Records on September 15th.
The album starts off in the typical Beatings barnburner fashion with “Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained”, but Late Season Kids as it progresses turns out to be a much more scaled back release for the band displaying a refined sound that taps into the members’ pop influences more so than relying on heaping amounts of distortion and their taste for playing at a no holds barred pace. While I do sort of miss the anthem like qualities that their previous album possessed, Late Season Kids succeeds fully on songwriting rather than just reaching back and turning the knob up on the amp to get that sort of energy going. Where in the past you could probably pinpoint The Beatings influences (Mission of Burma, Sugar, etc.) to a handful of bands, Late Season Kids takes a big step forward in breaking out of those chains and being able to maintain their own identity as a band. In the end Late Season Kids may not be the sort of rocking affair that you’ve come to expect from the band, however this is certainly their strongest and most well written album to date and burying these songs in a pile of fuzz would have been a disservice to the work they put into them I feel. Good stuff as always from these Bostonians.
The title to Boston-slash-New York rockers The Beatings’ sixth full-length evokes the surging success of a pro sports franchise making all the right moves perhaps when least expected. Nearly a decade into the band’s career (and well into certain members’ thirties, marriages and parenthood) is an unlikely time to have created its best, most confident record — and yet here it is. Late Season Kids is a triumph crafted by a quintet whose tenure is longer than many — if not most — big-leaguers and rock acts alike.
Although The Beatings continue to calculate the musical mean of noisy indie rock a la Superchunk and Mission of Burma, the band hasn’t been coasting. It recently added the latest in a series of fifth members: Greg Lyon, who fronts and plays guitar for Beatings label mates Pending Disappointment, has been officially dubbed (drubbed?) a Beating. As far as the music is concerned, the band purports to have embraced a more pop direction on this latest collection. This we can confirm, but don’t expect Barry Manilow here. Instead, The Beatings furnish a ready supply of its familiar fist-pumping anthems, such as the four-on-the-floor “Youth Crimes,” with the fivesome’s typical noise quotient dialed back somewhat in certain places. The subdued and downright spooky “Ways And Means,” sung by bassist Erin Dalbec, is a taut, but calming deep breath later in the album. The Tony Skalicky-sung closer “Dreams Of The Waking” both recalls Versus’/The Godrays’ “Crazy” and sounds like the cover closing on a book.
But not everything is toned down. The redemptive caterwaul of co-fronter E.R. drives the album highlight “All The Things You’ve Been Missing” repeatedly into a chorus built on a scalding baptism of blaring, reverbed guitars. At the break-down he spits lines that recall Lloyd Dobbler dialogue, before spinning the song on its side like a bottle cap into a jabbing, acerbic coda. The following track, the thriller “Parts-Per Notation,” leads with the almost comically understated line “I think I’m going to explode” (reinforcing the earlier sentiment “it takes all of my patience not to lose control” from “Youth Crimes”).
On Late Season Kids the band swings for the fences and connects like batters in their prime. The propulsive energy captured within the set — but to a lesser extent in the respective side projects fronted by E.R. and Mr. Skalicky — suggests that The Beatings’ secret weapon is the all-business but unflagging rhythm section comprised of Dennis Grabowski and Ms. Dalbec.
whoa! where did these guys and one gal come from? let me answer my own question for ya. the beatings are from boston and late season kids is there sixth record, and third full length. im about half way through the 12 song lp and like the evening rig’s is doin stuff, this, at this juncture, is definitely one of the best rock records i have heard this year. where is doin stuff is heavy on the mats influence, late season kids heavily steeped in a lot of what was going on in mid-90′s indie rock and the likes of superchunk, sebadoh, polvo, new radiant storm kings, etc. reading this and knowing what you may already know about me, it should then come as no surprise that i dig these guys.
The Beatings have been beating out records for nearly a decade. That they haven’t achieved more notoriety is confounding considering the quality evidenced throughout their catalog. Late Season Kids displays all the hallmarks for indie-pop success: short, hook-filled mid-tempo rockers, sturdy lead vocals with ethereal female backups, and just the right amount of noisy guitars to keep it all interesting.
Their raucous moments recall vintage Superchunk, while much of the album evokes Pleased To Meet Me-era Replacements. One of the vocalists is a dead ringer for Arcade Fire’s Win Butler, as heard on “Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained” and “Youth Crimes.” On song after song, the band members display their collective strength as consummate songwriters. Each tune balances ingenuity with raw pop hooks. Their chemistry is as much responsible for the band’s success as the musicians’ individual contributions. The sum of their various parts is an engaging album, surely as likable as anything from indie rock’s marquee names.
HOLDING ON TO HAND GRENADES
Alert fans of my writing (all six of you) may recall that back in November, I reviewed an EP by the New England-based quintet [sic] The Beatings titled If Not Now, Then When?.
The band are now set to release their second full-length, Holding On To Hand Grenades, later in January, and everything I said about the advance single is true once again. In that piece, I wrote:
It is not damning with faint praise to say that the Beatings remind me of Mission of Burma; only rarely can a band pursue Burma’s post-punk ideal of brittle soundscapes replete with feedback, scratchy guitars, and dry vocals and have it sound any good. Usually such bands just sound like they’re ripping off Burma with a little Pixies on the side. But the Beatings have managed the rare trick of appropriating some of the astringent, hyperintelligent sound invented by Mission of Burma but making it sound human, intimate, and alive in a way that Burma never could.
But the Beatings aren’t a tribute band. Although they do wear their influences on their sleeves (touches of Radiohead, Pixies, Sonic Youth, and giant helpings of Husker Du is what I’m hearing), this is to be expected for a relatively young band working in a close-knit genre looming with giants. It is really, really hard to find your own voice and write original songs (I should know… I’ve been trying (and failing) for fifteen years), but four(ish) short years into their career, The Beatings sound most like… themselves.
If greater success eludes The Beatings with the release of Hand Grenades then there is no justice in the world. On Hand Grenade the band combine the spiky astringecy of their biggest influences with a deft melodic sense that makes their best songs refreshingly sweet and tart at the same time. Every song on the album is better than those on their previous EP, suggesting that they are growing quickly as songwriters and arrangers.
Like many of the recent generation of indie rock bands, The Beatings thrive on tension. The Pixies’ signature loud-soft dynamic makes up a large part of their DNA, but they add new dimensions to this by-now routine strategy by adding Sonic Youth-style sheets of noise and by using three singers, one male with a brittle monotone that can burst into melodic (almost-)screaming, one male with a high and thin voice, and an occasional contribution from bassist Erin Dalbec who (in the best Kim Deal/Kim Gordon tradition) acts as a burst of sunshine over the grey-blue musical landscapes.
Guitarists Tony Skalicky and E.R. interweave their turbulent guitar lines over powerful drumming from Dennis Grabowski. All bassist Dalbec has to do with so much going on is add drive and punch to Grabowski’s drumming; that she is able to add harmonic interest is just icing on the cake. The muscular sound drives the fast songs and keeps the slow ones moving along, and the band create gorgeous textures to go with the turbulent rhythms. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a band before who could sound like Public Image Ltd. and Galaxie 500 at the same time, but I’m glad to have had the chance.
Highlights on Holding On To Hand Grenades include the stately and noisy “Upstate Flashbacks,” the driving hookiness of “Feel Good Ending,” the chilly resignation of “Stockholm Syndrome Relapse,” and the cute little weird vignettes like “Oh Shit, My Phaser’s Jammed” and the acoustic “Harry’s Wild Ride.” The album does peter out a bit toward the end, stumbling with “Pennsyltuckey” and “Villains,” which simply go on too long, and “False Positive,” which mainly suffers for sounding like a couple songs sequenced before it. Still, out of sixteen songs a maximum of three or four could be considered as filler – an impressive ratio by any standard.
It’s not as if Boston’s punk tradition needed saving, and it’s not as if The Beatings need their talent affirmed by comparison with the greats of that scene, but it’s true: if ever the world needed an heir to Mission of Burma, Galaxie 500, The Pixies and so on, The Beatings are it, and on their own terms. Holding On To Hand Grenades is an impressively self-assured statement of purpose that should be the Beatings’ entry to the World of Bigger And Better Things.
File this one in the “Don’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover” section. Judging by the title of this album, its cover art and song titles like “Oh Shit, My Phaser’s Jammed,” you’d think The Beatings were a third-rate nu-metal band. What a pleasant surprise it was to find out that the Boston-based band’s second album recalls the dramatic alt.rock of the ’80s and the jubilant guitars of ’90s indie rock — imagine Ian Curtis fronting Superchunk. While their influences provide a warm familiarity, The Beatings are also fresh enough to avoid sounding exactly like anyone else. By alternating singers (both male and female) and moving between up-tempo songs and brooding numbers, Holding On To Hand Grenades is a surprise treat.
They’ll take your soul if you let them / But don’t you / Let them.” That has to be one of my favorite lyrical phrases, bless my 70s soft-spot heart. And though it may seem strange to relate Carole King to a Boston punk/rock band, and stranger still, to a band named the Beatings — when all is universal in good songs, and I am strange, it works here. Holding on to Hand Grenades speaks of that common struggle — dealing with a chilly world that seems far too bent on scratching the blue from our skies. And though at times we are helpless to find the streaks of black that numb hands leave behind, it’s about resisting the descent into a colorless place. For the Beatings, this resistance emerges less in acoustic folksy murmurs and way more into balls-out, bad-ass screaming. But that’s different strokes, I guess.
To start, “A Responsible Person” paints the everyday burdens that bear weight on our shoulders, yet in its melodic energy, assumes these clouds aren’t so heavy they can’t be lifted: “I’m gonna put in my time / tomorrow / I’m gonna make up my mind / tomorrow / and put myself together / if I can.” Though we get to a place where we feel up and ready for change, sometimes a breath or two is necessary. More often still, it seems all too easy to place these hopes within an infinite number of “tomorrows.” But as the Beatings bring to mind, it’s worth the troubling shot.
True, sometimes what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger—but what about when it is killing you? As for that idea, “This City Is Killing me” really hits home. At the end of beat-by-the city phrases, we get electric chair-elicited bursts of “Fight ! Fight! Fight!” that sound as if the singer (there are three of them, so your guess is as good as mine) were whipping his throat at the end of a rubber band. In a word: Amazing. Pure fed-up feeling always does well to get the meaning across, and the Beatings have plenty of it.
At points throughout the album, the vocals can get Interpol-ish, but that’s just a song or two up for skips. As for the rest, things maintain an interesting momentum. For bonus pleasure, there are a few instrumental interludes thrown into the batch: “Don’t Flake Now” has to be the quintessential neurotic phrase we hopefuls spin in our heads, especially when we find someone as charming as these bright acoustic strings and twinkly pianos. It’s somewhat of an unexpected, blissful minute of quiet beauty among the chaos. (I knew they had a little Carole in ‘em.)
“Remedial Math Rock” brings up the first in-your-silly-face, unrelenting song on the album, and its energy is more than welcomed. This is definitely the Beatings at their best. “Stockholm Syndrome Relapse” has a weirder, noir-ish vibe, with inserts of girlish whispers from bassist Erin Dalbec that call to mind French prostitutes cooing into rotary phones. While that has its perks, the Beatings are far better when they ante up the psychosis, and their songs come to maddening life. Maybe not so mad at life, just a bit perturbed enough to scream really fucking loud about it.
Since the late nineties, Boston’s The Beatings have forged a path of sonically-fueled independent rock, rooted deeply in D.I.Y ethics. On Holding on to Hand Grenades, their second full length and fifth overall release on their own label, Midriff Records, The Beatings, along with the well-respected indie producer Paul Q. Kolderie, continue to create incisively coarse, guitar-driven rock. By dipping into a harmonious post-punk fondue of monotone vocal wails and catchy bottom heavy melodies, The Beatings shine most brightly on the almost radio-friendly “Upstate Flashbacks,” or on the flipside with the screeching angst of “Remedial Math Rock.” The Beatings follow in the footsteps of fellow Massachusetts rock legend The Pixies, with a tip of the hat to NYC art noise legend Sonic Youth. Holding on to Hand Grenades, from its instrumental opener “Intro to a Responsible Person” to the nearly seven-minute opus of closing track “Villains,” is yet again proof positive that these three gentleman and one women are proud torch-bearers of Boston’s underground music scene.
It’s not a backhanded compliment to call the Beatings a pure punk throwback. If there’s nothing on HOTHG that constitutes a great leap forward for a band that’s already proven its revivalist hardcore chops, it’s still a pretty good record. Less weird than its predecessors (in particular. 2003′s flawless HPMA), Holding finds the Boston quartet chugging through a generous hour of melodic, hook-driven power punk. Only a smattering of brief instrumentals hint at the Beatings’ jokey side, but their noisy egghead leanings are on full, glorious display throughout, especially when bassist Erin Dalbec sings lead on the swagger-heavy Scorched Earth Policy and towering Pennsyltuckey (the album’s standout track). Cleanly produced and carefully performed, the music on Holding matches the title; you feel the band holding back a bit, as if it wasn’t ready to lob the pineapple just yet. But as a likeable sampling of catchy songcraft, it’ll do until the Beatings feel comfortable enough to pull the pin.
IF NOT NOW, THEN WHEN?
Ahhh… the good old days of Boston. The days when you could stroll down to the Rat and see a full slate of bands, each with their own team colors, play noisy post-rock anthems deep into the Kenmore Square night.
Too bad I wasn’t there. By the time I got to Boston the Rathskellar was long gone and Kenmore Square was undergoing its own miniDisneyfication into Main Street, USA at the hands of developers gone starry-eyed on the fumes of appreciating real estate. Galaxie 500 had bifurcated into Luna and Damon & Naomi (whom you sometimes see around, hi guys!). Mission of Burma (who have since reformed)had flamed out and one of its members was a public television producer. Dinosaur, Jr. had gotten fat, old, and deaf and spun into oblivion. The Pixies were about to get back together (via fax machine, I suppose?) to cash in on their legacy. Fort Apache studios, long the haven and home to whatever the Boston Sound was supposed to be, packed up and moved to a rural river town in Vermont. Boston still has a scene, but most of the bands that come out of it fail to move me like a hometown band should.
But now there’s the Beatings coming across my radar. Produced by Paul Q. Kolderie and engineered by Boston stalwart Tim Shea (of The Black Helicopter), the Beatings have a new five-song EP, If Not Now, Then When? that does move me, right down to the bottom of my aging, curmudgeonly, candy apple grey heart
It is not damning with faint praise to say that the Beatings remind me of Mission of Burma; only rarely can a band pursue Burma’s post-punk ideal of brittle soundscapes replete with feedback, scratchy guitars, and dry vocals and have it sound any good; usually such bands just sound like they’re ripping off Burma with a little Pixies on the side. But the Beatings have managed the rare trick of appropriating some of the astringent, hyperintelligent sound invented by Mission of Burma but making it sound human, intimate, and alive in a way that Burma never could.
But the Beatings aren’t a tribute band. Although they do wear their influences on their sleeves (touches of Radiohead, Pixies, Sonic Youth, and giant helpings of Husker Du are what I’m hearing), this is to be expected for a relatively young band working in a close-knit genre looming with giants. It is really, really hard to find your own voice and write original songs (I should know… I’ve been trying (and failing) for fifteen years), but four(ish) short years into their career, The Beatings sound most like… themselves.
If Not Now, Then When? features five tracks (two from their upcoming album, two outtakes, and the eponymous single) that are for the most part lovely, demanding, and richly textured. The Beatings are at their best on the album cuts: the headspinningly noisy “Feel Good Ending” and “Stockholm Syndrome Relapse,” each of which manage the trick of being simultaneously moody, catchy, and new-sounding. The two outtakes are outtake-worthy, neither great nor disposable, which is a lot more than I could say for most single-padding material I’ve heard.
The most interesting song, anthropologically speaking, is the title track “If Not Now, Then When?” A longtime live staple, it is a soft-loud raveup in the tradition of the Pixies complete with screaming vocals and dissonant guitars . Although decent enough, it is mainly valuable for showing how far the band have come in getting the arty-indie-edgy-for-edgy’s-sake thing out of their system.
Given that the newest songs on If Not Now, Then When? are the best, I await this winter’s release of their new full length(tentatively titled Holding On To Hand Grenades with ‘bated breath. These kids could soon be really, really great.
It really sucks when a band sends you a copy of their new record and you somehow misplace it in your office (which, in your defense, also contains almost 2000 other CD mailers). It sucks even more when the band cheerfully sends you another copy of the record, and you lose that one too. And it really, seriously uber-sucks when you finally give up on physical media, download MP3s of the record, crank ‘em up in the car on the way to work and realize that you absolutely love the record — and that you really should have spent the last few months telling people about it.
Well, better safe than sorry.
The record in question, obviously, is If Not Now, Then When? — a ferocious five-song barrage that’ll take you back to the days when “post-punk” was an era, not a record store section. Remember how magical it was twenty-odd years ago, when the first few punk bands climbed unsteadily out of the three-chord primordial soup, discovered more complex songwriting techniques and ultimately revived an ancient art known as “singing”? The Beatings don’t seem old enough to remember that heady era, but it’s clear that someone raised them right — that, or they studied like mad. Whatever its source, their knowledge pays off big time in rip-roaring opener “Feel Good Ending”: it’s the best song Husker Du and Mission of Burma never wrote. For a measure or two, the stabbing lead guitar line hints at minor key doom ‘n’ gloom, but that mood is quickly dispelled by a rollicking, ramshackle melody, full of subtle melodic shifts and deep-running currents. Drummer Dennis Grabowski pummels his kit like a Mega-Millions lottery winner who feels like flaunting his riches and has just been informed that crash cymbal hits cost ten bucks each. The vocalist — guitarists Tony Skalicky and Eldridge Rodriguez both sing, but I’m guessing this is Skalicky — barrels through his lyrics with sardonic glee, slamming into his couplets with a sort of wide-eyed melodic fury. This is the sort of song that makes previously non-musical people buy guitars and drum kits and give that “rock” thing a go.
“Stockholm Syndrome Relapse” is an entirely different animal. If the title alone isn’t enough to hook you (kids, look it up!), the moody midtempo groove and subtle string accents should do the trick, Those falsetto vocals may be a hard sell, but Erin Dalbec’s sexy whispers balance the equation. People who want to hear a little Interpol in the chorus will do so — let them — but when Dalbec joins in later in the song, the effect is more Pixies than Paul Banks… thank heaven.
At first, “Pretty Faces” shows signs of being the EP’s dud, settling into a comfortable, borderline-pastoral guitar figure. Then, perhaps a minute in, Grabowski jacks up the tempo; suddenly the song is much faster than it needs to be, unless… Yep, something else is coming — a noisy, billowing electric counterpoint that shoots its tendrils off in every direction. From there, “Pretty Faces” effectively dissects the slow/quick/slow and loud/quiet/loud dynamics, first flowing energetically into each line, then ebbing again in time for the punctuation, leaving little noisy bits of sonic flotsam swirling through the mix.
By the time you reach “All Dead Heroes”, you’ll wonder if the band is deliberately fucking with your expectations, The song’s harrowing forty-second percussion intro/classic rock lead-in all but promises an over-caffeinated “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, but delivers a pop anthem in its place. It’s a noisy pop anthem, and Grabowski gets his usual kit-punishing workout, but you won’t be over your skis here unless you’re scared of ride cymbal.
The EP closes with its title track, a previously unrecorded staple of the Beatings’ live set, and a timely reminder of how much the group has evolved. Once you get beyond the intro’s comparatively simplistic melody and unexpectedly venomous lyrics, you’ll be tossed into a caustic, blustery pop song. Even here, the band’s fierce energy and melodic sensibilities shine through, but it’s a rougher package, tarted up with reverb and screamy vocals.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with cutting loose — and even at their most overtly earnest and youthful, The Beatings never sink to abrasive emo-isms — but when the EP’s other songs achieve such a stylish mix of polish and passion, it’s hard not to perceive “If Not Now, Then When?” as a lesser work. You’ll want to focus on “Feel Good Ending”, “Stockholm Syndrome Relapse” and the others — they embrace post-punk’s exploratory zeal without getting wrapped up in the handful of buzz-traits that helped transform it into a trendy cipher. You may not hear If Not Now, Then When in your favorite nightclub or overpriced clothing store, but you’ll hear it on your stereo two years from now, when the cut-out bins are full of Bravery and Bloc Party CDs.
I’m going to end this review by giving you the message I can’t give to my six-months-ago self: get off your ass and find this EP now. The Beatings are prepping a full-length for late this year/early next year, and if it fulfills If Not Now’s promise, you’re going to be hearing a lot more about them. Why not get there first?
Epilogue: Two days after writing this review, I found the CD.
For those of you who’ve been asleep for the last two years, we’d like to confirm: the 80s are back. And we don’t mean the shoulder-padded Spandau Ballet variety – it seems we were only ever one Pixies reunion and a Gang Of Four revival away from the wholesale resurrection of the Alternative 80s all along. So, with regards to The Beatings, we’ll get those nods to the Pixies and their ilk out of the way early, if only because it’s not quite fair and not quite accurate.
Boston’s The Beatings, as opposed to the punky UK band of the same name, are the real deal (as opposed to the real Deal), having been ploughing this discordant alt noise-pop furrow for a fair few years. They’re not the bandwagon-jumping Johnny-come-latelys you might have pegged them for. If Not Now, Then When?, the band’s latest self-released offering on their Midriff Records label, is a 5-track prelude to forthcoming second album, Holding On To Handgrenades, scheduled for early next year.
Opener “Feel Good Ending” is a take-no-prisoners turbo-charged stomp-rocker, and catchy as hell with it, that blasts its way to a climactic drum frenzy. “Stockholm Syndrome Relapse”, the other cut from the new album, starts off seductively with a breathy, whispered female vocal and laid-back bass groove, before breaking out into an assured shouty dirge-fest.
Perhaps the most alt-radio-friendly of the tracks, “All Dead Heroes” is exactly the kind of thing that’ll have the Kids in a froth of cider-and-black induced pogoing down the local indie disco. Rammed full of jaunty upbeat bass hooks, it’s all that your correspondent can do to stop himself grabbing a pair of Converse and hitting the town.
The EP’s title track, either the weakest or least accessible (depending on how you see it) of the five, while a decent piece of angsty scream-rock, fails to hit the spot in quite the same way. Still, at a 4/5 hit-rate, The Beatings are well above the International Meatloaf Threshold Of Acceptability of 66% (“Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad”, natch).
In the case of If Not Now, Then When?, take some advice: if you can’t take a Beating, you might need a hammering. You heard.
Don’t worry, the Beatings aren’t half as ruthless as their name might imply. This doesn’t mean that they don’t know how to kick up a racket and create daring excursions in noise that send their guitars into swirling love-damaged dream-rock. What’s truly amazing is how they manage to make their patented brand of emotional catharsis sound so restrained and downright controlled. Obviously, they’re not the first band to utilize feedback and overdrive as an instrument, let alone the first band from Boston to take a crack at this approach (Pixies and Mission of Burma spring to mind), but very few other bands are able to tame this beast in such a natural and effortless sounding way. There’s no reason to question their intentions as they grab a melody and run with it with such enthusiasm that everything else, from squabbling guitar runs, strained vocals, moaning note bends, and delicate whispers, all fall right into place.
The only complaint is how short this release is. Even that issue is quickly addressed: this five-song EP is designed to whet our pallet before the full-length. Two songs on the EP are from the forthcoming album, two are outtakes, and the title track, “If Not Now, Then When?” is a previously unreleased staple of their live set. If Not Now, Then When? kicks off with a forward charging rocker, “Feel Good Ending” that gets the blood pumping in a way any proper album opener should. The euphoric rush of the deliberate and dedicated rhythm section give non-stop momentum to the crunching jangle and chaotic guitar work, that it’s nearly impossible to tell where the Beatings will be headed next. What they do is head into an ethereal violin and chant number, “Stockholm Syndrome Relapse,” that showcases the delicately unhinged vocals of Erin Dalbec and results in sounding like a My Bloody Valentine song that’s been dug out from under thirty overdubs. The rest of the songs fall some where in-between the styles of these two stand-out tracks; dreamy melodies, soaring guitar-noise, art rock perfection.
— Denez McAdoo
The Noise Boston
This EP grows on the brain like a fungus; slowly, but pervasively working its way into your synapses. It would help if the CD had instructions ala the Stones Let it Bleed, roughly paraphrased: “This record should be played REALLY FUCKING LOUD.”
“Feel Good Ending” opens the disc like the bastard child of Volcano Suns and Versus, a relentless driving force that captures The Beatings’ live energy. “Stockholm Syndrome Relapse” easily a candidate for local song of the year, is a brilliant, smoldering study in slowly building (not so) quiet intensity, and the best track here. Fans of the Verlaine/Lloyd school of guitar interfacing will thoroughly enjoy “Pretty Faces”. “All Dead Heroes” starts off sounding like the ghost of a lost track off of Joy Division’s posthumous “Still” before settling into a dark, catchy groove. The title track, part schoolyard-rhyme ditty and aggro-screamer with wonderfully charming lyrical matter, closes the CD. Kudos to engineer Tim Shea and producer Paul Kolderie for the warm, thick tones that jump out of the speakers (again, the louder this is played, the better).
— Chris Pearson
Boston’s Weekly Dig
It’s a specific breed of monster that plays in a band with a name like The Beatings…The Beatings have no such trouble with incongruity, as Eldridge Rodriguez, Tony Skalicky, Erin Dalbec and Dennis Grabowski have been abusing and defiling Bostonians’ eardrums for years now. Their 2002 full-length, Italiano, garnered pole-smoking from the Village Voice to the Washington Post, and everybody in between. This record, a loud 22-minute EP, is meant to satiate the rabid masses’ clamor for fresh Beatings, while final preparations are made for a winter 2005 LP. If their latest, If Not Now, When?, is any indication, winter can’t get here quickly enough. The Beatings come out swinging, with Rodriguez snarling, “When the money runs out and the sun comes out, that’s when the guns come out” over driving guitar riffs and machine-gun drumrolls on “Feel Good Ending.” “Pretty Faces” and “All Dead Heroes” are similarly righteous, while the title track, a longtime live staple, is a terrific fuck-you anthem. There’s nothing contrived or gimmicky about this band or their music; it’s honest, unpretentious and all-too rare.
— Paul McMorrow
THE HEART, THE PRODUCT, THE MACHINE AND THE ASSHOLE
Those of us with Bostalgia can’t help but hear the Beatings and recall the days when female bass players roamed every stage, when J Mascis was the man to plunder and when the road to glory ran through Fort Apache. The tagline above the latest from these contemporary Boston darlings is “Loud Frantic Quartet Takes Horse Tranquilizers”, and the sound-bite version of the subsequent news item reads: “Silkworm Tupelo”. Only the jokey “Transvestite Bar” fails to intrigue, and even it offers a fantastic organ sway. The band’s recipe (few changes plus screaming finale equals song) grates a tad, but the bummercore “These Will Be the Old Days Someday” is thankfully spared. The Beatings are one ingredient (stronger production) away from continental potential.
— William Bowers
Any indie rock band calling Boston, MA home home inevitably has Pixies dust pumping through its veins. The Beatings have never been an exception, until now…building on the post-punk framework, The Beatings have since grown exponentially, honing their songwriting skills to razor sharpness. ‘Transvestite Bar’ is a definite highlight and the band’s most daring composition to date. A simple banjo and organ begin the seven-minute journey through a late “when the bars are closed/ and I can’t get to sleep in my pantyhose.” The song slowly fades beneath guitars and a baritone backup chorus, perfectly placing the listener’s mind in the bar with the band. The final two songs, however, hit the hardest. The amazing ‘Sick Day’ sounds like a rough-around-the-edges Interpol; the two-and-a-half minutes of whirling guitars and intense shouted vocals will bring shivers. Closing things out is “These Will Be the Old Days Someday,” a somber heartbreaker and the perfect autumnal end to a unique (and far too short) record. “As the sceneries change, you remain the same” is one haunting lyric. The Beatings, however, have changed. This is a very good thing.
— Michael Wehunt
All Music Guide
Previously dubbed scream rock, post-punk, and noise pop as evidenced by their 2001 demo EP 6Hz and 2002′s Italiano, Boston’s the Beatings add slowcore to their repertoire with the advent of The Heart, the Product, the Machine and the Asshole. With their deep warbles and sluggish axes, lead singers and guitarists Tony Skalicky and Eldridge Rodriguez recall Idaho on the commanding opener, “American Standard,” and a twang-tinged exercise in desperation known as “Organ Donor Regrets.” The whispering intricacies of “These Will Be the Old Days Someday” make the midtempo “This Year” — sung by bassist Erin Dalbec — seem downright rollicking. But without question, it’s the clever, cross-dressing lament “Transvestite Bar” that steals the show on an EP that finds the Beatings punching through another rock style with mad skills.
—John D. Luerssen
This scrappy Boston quartet returns with a fistful of mid-tempo tunes and barroom laments masquerading as an EP. At over 30 minutes, The Heart, the Product, the Machine and the Asshole (reportedly named after the respective members’ nicknames) is a meaty effort that departs a bit from the melodic noise-rock of last year’s Italiano, but manages to make an impression in its own right. Though it falls short of showcasing what they’re truly capable of, The Heart… has a restrained confidence that belies The Beatings’ vigorous live act. The lyrics are top notch, slathering mildly sarcastic anger over spare sentiments, and the performances are typically impassioned but never fussed-over. The EP exudes a stuffy-nosed calm before the storm (bristling with kinetic energy), and may end up being the most subdued of the band’s efforts.
“This Year” features rubbery electric guitars and “Sick Day” (which starts with someone taking a piss) probably owns in concert, with Eldrige Rodriguez’s Frank Black-in-a-bottle vocals floating over echoey gits. Still, the EP is a step in a subtler direction. Their noisier tendencies in check, The Heart… ends with “These Will Be Old Days Someday,” which has a late-Saturday-and-you’re-finally-sober feel, avoiding indulgent indie melancholy with patient but insistent notes and matter-of-fact vocals. Maybe it’s the quickie mi-fi production, or the dearth of out-and-out bruisers, but The Heart… sounds like a band maturing into something unmistakably more diverse and heartfelt.
— John Wenzel
Delusions of Adequacy
Get this CD and put it in your car stereo, drive around alone, sing along really loud. Put it on while you get ready for the big date. Getting home way too blasted in the early morning? No problem, try The Beatings while you stare at the spinning ceiling. If you just got dumped, pour another whiskey, and crank the last song, “These Days Will Be the Old Days Someday.”
The Beatings are the real deal, making the kind of uninhibited songwriting and performing that bands struggle for, but few ever actually achieve. If they can’t hit the notes, they shout them out anyway. The playing is unselfish and deceptively basic, traditional, but not to the extent of being uncreative. They have big swaying anthems (“Sick Day”), quirky, sharp pop (“This Year”), and even dark, disturbing laments (“Organ Donor Regrets”) that would make Billy Childish proud. There’s some winking and shrugging when they scream about how “the transvestite bar got the best of them (me),” but then again, maybe there’s not.
Here’s a brief description of the music itself . . . Throughout the six songs here, the ingredients rarely (though they do on occasion) stray from the standard garage band set up. There’s dirty guitars, a thick, quarter note-happy bass, and a hard hit drum kit that let’s you know what part of your body to nod, tap, or shake. The voice that most often comes through is a bassy, though surprisingly expressive instrument, something that calls to a more vocally talented Calvin Johnson. This is the easy defining characteristic for The Beatings. They’re also fond of the “three chords and the truth” approach, but are no means limited to it. “Transvestite Bar,” a seven-minute trek through the geography of a very strange evening, sports a banjo and organ, giving something of a rootsy melancholy to its minor meanderings, while “Sick Day,” lead by the voice of the female bass player, offers up a welcome break about half way through the somewhat gloomy EP.
About the only negative thing that could be said about the record is that the opener, “American Standard,” is a more sullen, slowed-down theft of Pavement’s famous “Summer Babe,” and the closer, maybe the favorite off the whole disk, “These Will Be the Old Days Someday,” appears to be heavily influenced by the sad and sweet tunefulness of Modest Mouse’s earlier work. Even this though is easily overlooked because of the personal stamp The Beatings put on the songs, and after a few listens, the comparisons fall off the back of the truck. This is one of the best finds in a long time. Check them out.
— Hutch Hill
Boston’s Weekly Dig
This follow-up to the Beatings’ superb 2001 debut Italiano delivers more driving post-rock. The male vocals switch from low monotones over angular guitar lines to a frenzied shriek a la Pixies-era Frank Black. Adding a female element to the vocal mix, bassist Erin Dalbec leads “This Year,” a track reminiscent of Kelly Green and the late great PEE. Personally, I can’t get enough of that male/female combo on the mic. The must-hear “Transvestite Bar” careens over seven minutes, a jumble of tongue-in-cheek lyrics anchored by the chorus: “When it’s late at night the bars are closed/and I can’t go to sleep in my pantyhose/transvestite bar’s got the best of me.” Building to a larynx-ripping scream over a basso “man chorus” (that’s what it’s called in the liner notes), the song ends in a golden wash of organ. In six songs, this EP covers a wide range indicative of the Beatings’ many influences, culminating in an utterly original talent.
“At its highest level, rock and roll has a visceral energy matched by intellectual prowess. This is rock as art and not just fun. The Beatings, a four-piece band that calls both Brooklyn and Boston home, seems to hit this highest standard on its recently released CD “Italiano.” Hard-rocking it has less in common with today’s indie bands than it does with groups like Husker Du and the Ass Ponys. Which means it’s a
band that seems unconcerned with trying to fit into a certain niche and focuses instead on creating a riveting, propulsive and ever-changing sound.”
— Joe Heim
“Definitely one of the best CDs I got to hear in a while. I heard these guys and girl on Boston’s 89.3 on the way to work and
forgot the named of the band. Needless to say, I hear this rocking-out song (“Twins”) with this repeating guitar squelching noise, and I was more than psyched. The song has that catchiness accompanied by an embracing noise, sort of like Husker Du or Superchunk. That song alone has the
ability to make you just go and grab your guitar (air or otherwise) and jam along, and it only gets better from there. “New Destroyer” is a truly depressing song, but you can’t help but bob your head to it. “Addicted to Freaks” brings the rock back with a great singing/screaming duet.
Musically, The Beatings change direction multiple times, but there’s a real sense of character to the music that keeps welcoming you back. You can call it “postpunk”, you can call it “aggro, indie rock”, hell, call it whatever you want. Just make sure the word “great” is in there. Italiano is a keeper.”
— Dana Morse
“These guys (and girl) fucking rock! But then again, I’m a sucker for anything Mission of Burma/Husker Du/Pixies-inspired. Their recently released full-length, Italiano, is their best effort yet, and leaves no question as to whether the future looks bright for this Boston four-piece — it could be blinding. Request “Heavy Metal” — it’ll knock your socks off.”
— Ken Switzer
“By design as much as by chance, the Beatings have made a chaotic recording in the spirit of post-punk Minnesota outfits. It begins, surprisingly, over tinkling keyboards, as bassist/vocalist Erin Dalbec introduces the band who might at this very minute be wrecking a club in your home town. The sweetness ends with “Twins”, a Bob Mould song in all but name, and then the band hits its peak. “How Many Times Can
You Say Goodbye to the Same Person?” is an immediate classic, with screaming pleas, nerve-wracked guitars and a less-than-comforting lyrical strangeness (“I thought you’d never leave / The coffin came out and you begged to stay”). The actual lyrical content (“Big winds blow through empty
caverns”) does not suggest the song’s visceral power, because it’s the group’s energy that drives everything home. They are as juvenile and reckless as the Replacements (drunk before cops in Stink), with music that will please punkers one moment, emo types the next, and girl group fanatics every time the sweet-voiced Dalbec takes center stage. Though Dalbec’s songs are such an anomaly that they throw me off course, I’m delighted that her songs aren’t relegated to side projects. The band’s strongest appeal, in fact, is to always come across as if they are performing
whatever they damn well want. They follow Dalbec’s new wave chic with a dirge (“I Don’t Know the Truth”) that’s Joy Division 101, then follow a New Day Rising-like number with a plaintive acoustic track (“Stock Car Driver’s Lament”). Violins enter “Refueling Vehicles”, suggesting the
group’s odd mix of material has an obscure Mekons influence, and the record ends with frivolity (“Wow, heavy metal / Torture for my soul”) and a heap of screams and pain (“Bloated and Disabled”). If you look to rock for cathartic release, it’s songs like “Bloated” (“You try killing
yourself slowly…Making it slow so no one can tell”) and “How Many Times” that make this disc essential. Aspiring rockers might find the group more vital for proving that you can have inconsequential things to say, yet fool everyone with powerpacked performances and middle-fingered
variations. Now do yourself a favor: see The Beatings in concert and watch them revive the spirit of rock.”
— Theodore Defosse
“Boston’s The Beatings have made a lot of noise in their short history. Last year’s “6hz” EP kicked out the jams with charming
and shaky confidence, garnering comparisons to the Pixies, Guided by Voices and other indie royalty. “Italiano” is their first full length, and if it’s any indication of the band’s future, I would put on some sunglasses. The songs are all over the map in terms of style, but rarely sound derivative. “How Many Times Can You Say Goodbye to the Same Person?” ends with clever rhythmic conceit, subtly slowing the Frank Black-esque vocals and loping drums to a snail’s pace by song’s end. “Nothing” is punk pop at its best, with bassist Erin Dalbec sounding like a lo-fi Veruca Salt or harder-edged Velocity Girl. “The Art of Leaving” is the best mostly-instrumental song I’ve heard in years, simultaneously intuitive, bittersweet and brooding. There’s really nothing you could find to complain about on this album, except that there isn’t more of it. The Beatings are like that friend that everyone should have. They’re funny, smart and perpetually in a state of kicking your ass.”
— John Wenzel
“Expecting a punk band and not getting one, here, the first song starts out with a very mellow intro and Michael Stipe-vocals that explode into a noisy rock song that seems more tied to the “alternative” of the early ’80s than anything that would go with the word ‘beatings.’ The Stipe comparison creeps in a couple more times, bringing back memories of the days when R.E.M. would really rock out, raw and energetic. There are hints of a Yo La Tengo-type noise, and when mellowness hits, it swirls into a dreamy guitar mood, with the vocals just screaming over the slow drive of the rhythm. The CD ends with a very raucous song that carries hints of early Buffalo Tom, but with the vocals almost falling apart, hoarse and broken, but very alive.”
— Marcel Feldmar
“Every so often I seem to get bitch-slapped by a band I’ve never heard before. Blindly, I stumble around, asking myself, “Why haven’t I heard these guys?” So let me ask The Beatings something: What took you fuckers so long? This Boston-based group’s latest 5-song CD EP 6hz has been kicking my ass up and down for about a month now, and it’s been the most depraved, satisfying month of my life. The Beatings rely on simple, punkish rhythms augmented by manic leads and strained (but inherently melodic) vocals. The melodies, mind you, must be sought after, but when you find them it’s not hard to do it again. This works to a great effect on tracks like “Brighter Than Bright” and “Wring Me Out,” the latter showcasing some excellent, inventive guitar work. The best track on the EP, “Experimental Test Monkey,” would have been a classic power-pop tune in the late 80s. Its fragmented leads, assured drums, and mournful, insistent vocals take hold of your brain harder with each listen, kinda like that Alien pod slowly making its way into your mouth and down your throat. By the time you’ve listened to this CD for a couple weeks, it’s too late. Your stomach is about to explode and get blood all over the inside of the nice clean spaceship walls. Oh well.”
— John Wenzel
“Hailing from Boston, The Beatings’ recent disc may be short in quantity – it’s only a five-song EP – but it’s long on punchy, three-chord melodies, variations and nuances… and very similar to The Pixies. Things start off with “Brighter Than Bright” and a hopeless intonation of a nasally, “all dressed up, showing everywhere you’ve been,” that then delves into a thrashing drum accompanied by a weeping guitar and throaty desperation, while manipulating a slight monotonous but pandemonium feel. The Beatings carry the creative thirst throughout the album via tuneful turns, discordant guitar work, and drum and guitar variations a la Doolittle and Surfer Rosa. Adding to the coarseness is “No Glen, It’s a School Night,” with its scratchy lyrics, catchy sing-along-refrains, mild melodic shrieks, and an outspoken bass. After approximately three minutes of silence, the pseudo-end becomes a moving, emotional tune dealing with suppressed feelings exploding into screams. 6hz perpetrates an indie punk reawakening prepared to jolt even the laziest person.”
— Melissa Bergeron
“6 Hz’s first song starts out slowly, and rather like Modest Mouse’s “Teeth like God’s Shoeshine”, it gradually evolves into a punk song. It thereby conveys two distinct moods, which is one mood more than your average punk song. Similarly, with one or two arguable exceptions, this EP is a step up from other punk EPs. At its best moments, it seems like a modern version of Pink Floyd’s Wish you were Here, as most of
the songs are themed around people who’ve lost their souls in their day-to-day bustle. The album peaks on the third track, “Shark Attacks are on the Rise”, as different psyche-voices intermingle and the instruments pulsate. The Beatings have a good feel for how punk music should sound; while
their music is rarely complex, they always manage to change it before it gets boring. It might take you a few listens to understand the lyrics…but once you do, you’ll see that they’re as impressive as the music.”
— Josh Kazman
“Some heavy names were dropped in trying to get me to listen to this CD, names like Sonic Youth, Husker Du, and The Pixies. Elite
enough company to make any self-styled music critic both apprehensive and intrigued. The good news is that The Beatings belong in that elite company, their sound having obvious roots in that fertile, mid-to-late-’80s period of what was then called “progressive” or “new” music (before the term “alternative rock” was coined, much less overused to the point of meaninglessness). Even better, the band never sounds dated or derivative — despite wearing their influences on their sleeves, there’s something fresh and new about these six songs. Perhaps it’s because nobody’s making this kind of music anymore — not even the people that were the obvious inspirations — but moreover, the band seems really interested in building on the base that the earlier bands provide and taking it to the next level. So call The Beatings the heirs to the throne, and with challenging, dissonent-yet-melodic, and impassioned songs like “Brighter Than Bright,” “Experimental Test Monkey,” and “Wring Me Out,” they deserve it. An excellent EP that deserves attention — we could use a few more bands like The Beatings in these teen pop-dominated days!”
— Julio Diaz
“Great indie punk, expressed as a mix of Superchunk and the Pixies. Walls of guitar and a twitchy set of male/female vocal leads. Plenty of distortion for all. With vox that seem for the most part like a war is being waged with one’s larynx (and the larynx isn’t doing too well). At any rate, 6Hz demonstrates that the Beatings have the potential to continue making vital music.”
— Jeremy Salmon
Boston’s Weekly Dig
“The name is terribly misleading, but the music isn’t. Falling somewhere between Yo La Tengo, Varnaline, Mission of Burma and the much missed Squirrel Bait, The Beatings make space and squall sounds with unexpected sharp turns left of center. The low Viking chorus on “Shark Attacks Are On The Rise” fits surprisingly well among its open feel. “Wring Me Out” is my personal favorite of the five songs on this
self-released CD, with a beautifully urgent vocal delivery and a nice half time break down. There are no credits anywhere for band members, only a blurry photo under the tray card (so very indie rock!), so I can’t say who does what, except that Bob Logan (Vic Firecracker) has again done justice as engineer on this outing. Hopefully they’re as good live as they are on this disc.”
— Tim Catz