Beep Beep’s new album, Enchanted Islands, is an often confusing amalgam of a vast array of styles and ideas. It can be a disorienting forty two minutes. The record features acid rock freakouts, funk beats, strange instrumental left-turns (I pretty sure that that they use David Carradine’s flute from Kill Bill on one track), some jarringly tuneful moments and the world’s most unsettling falsetto. Given the complexity of the album and, presumably, the band itself, Saddle Creek’s biographical sketch of Beep Beep is worth quoting at length to kick this review off. The bands principal members Eric Ray and Christopher Terry are referred to as, respectively, striving to “find resonance with his bodiless spirit” and “mourning the slow, sacrificial burning of his creative being.” The album is described as both a “disturbingly emasculated masterpiece” and “a bewitched fantasia for the mysticized and genetically mutated Galapagos islands.” Yeah. It’s that kind of record.
The album roars out of the gate with a vaguely out of key guitar riff that’s eventually echoed by that falsetto mentioned earlier. The song is called “I See You,” is only 55 seconds long, opens with the strangled lyric “hello, children,” closes with an angrily rattled tambourine and seems to announce to the listener that we’ve traveled off the edge of the map; strange things are afoot, buckle your seat belts. It’s probably important to note here that the principal reason the album is so disorienting is because of its refusal to fit into a box. If the whole album sounded like “I See You” or “Mermaid Struggle,” that would be pretty easy to understand. That stuttering guitar sound and high-pitched vocal, while certainly out on the experimental edges, certainly isn’t something that a certain strain of music listener would find all that strange. It’s the number of tropes that Beep Beep subvert that makes this album unique. “Mermaid Struggle” with it’s trebly modernity, moves right into “Secrets From the Well” (both of which are available for your listening pleasure below). The chasm between those two songs is mammoth. There’s some carry-over in the guitar sound, but the latter track is almost a subversion of a funk song, with it’s dance floor beat and electronic drum intro. Just when you wrap your brain around that, the next song draws heavily on the country idiom. Later on, “Baby Shoes” could almost be a Lionel Richie song (if Lionel had gone to art school). Yeah. It’s that kind of record.
There’s some far-out lyrical content on Enchanted Islands, much of which made me chuckle before scratching my chin and seriously contemplating my position in the universe. Emblematic of that approach is the opening line of “The Whispering Waves”: “How do you know when a starfish is dead? They’re always cold when you touch them.” The song goes on to say that a seashell told the narrator that he doesn’t have to forgive someone, presumably a jilted lover. It’s about our relationship with nature, right? Or the immutable passage of time? He’s on the beach right? Is the beach in his mind? Starfish are regenerative, that’s probably important here, right? And so on. Those little koan-like lyrics are all over the place on the album. In “Wooden Nickels,” which features two vocalists trading lines, you get this one: first singer: “If I see your body floating down the river” second singer:” Please don’t pull me ashore. Let me float. Let me sink.” This exchange is in front of bouncing piano music and is followed by an upbeat saxophone solo. It’s both startling lyrically and wildly out of sync with the music. Is this tongue in cheek? Is it a cry for help? What’s happening? Yeah. It’s that kind of record.
While I’ve tried to make the argument that Enchanted Islands is wildly unpredictable, that might, in reality, make it predictable (to draw on a line from our namesake’s film, “maybe your thing is that you don’t have a thing.”). In that sense, it’s the kind of record that rewards re-listening. When you know that Beep Beep is going to throw you a curve ball, the album starts to fit together; it’s not necessarily cohesive, but the iconoclastic streak of the album is something which improves with attention. The album enters the world on March 24 and the band is criss-crossing these United States over the next few months in support of it. Grab a copy and check out a live show. Just make certain that your conception of the world is stable before you hit play; Beep Beep might throw you off your moorings if you’re not mentally prepared.