The Coast is Never Clear
After Beulah’s lackluster debut CD, Handsome Western States, their sophomore release, When Your Heartstrings Break (1999), proved their exceptional knack for writing brainy, sophisticated pop songs. On Heart Strings, San Francisco-based Beulah evoked a prettier Built To Spill, delivering melodies that could have been the West Coast’s answer to The Pernice Brothers. Fortuitously, The Coast is Never Clear finds Beulah continuing in this vein. It could even be argued that The Coast is Never Clear is their best effort yet. There are so many brilliant songs herein• more, in fact, than most groups can generate in a career. All have a powerfully emotional build, climaxing in fine tuned, memorable choruses. Some will be happy to find that Miles Kurosky’s vocals on The Coast are less the whiny, sub-Neil Young variety they were in the past, and more the sweet Joe Pernice sort. On “A Good Man is Easy to Kill,” Kurosky is in top form. His mellifluous singing is expertly juxtaposed with the lyric’s gruesomeness: “When you flew through that windshield and your life passed reel to reel/Was there a bit part for me• When they drilled holes in your skull and screwed that halo to your head/Did you think that you could fly?” Irony ain’t dead in the hands of Beulah.
Stylistically, a good deal of the songs have a swanky feel about them. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of The Aluminum Group’s retro-ish lounge pop, but much more interesting and challenging than that. There’s a good dash of indie-pop-punk numbers as well, such as the raucous “Silver Lining” and the Velvet Underground-tinged “Gravity’s Bringing Us Down.” A couple of the best numbers, the back-to-back “Hey Brother” and “I’ll Be Your Lampshade,” are instant classics. On these Beulah has perfected the pop form first toyed with on their When Your Heartstrings Break: complete with splendid turns of musical and lyrical phrasing combined with a lilting West Coast sound (’70s period Beach Boys, distilled Spanish influences and Van Dyke Parks). Needless to say, this disc is spectacular • one of the shining moments for pop in 2001.
Velocette Records, 83 Walton St., Atlanta, GA 30303; http://www.velocetterecords.com