I’ve got four things to talk about before I launch into a full-on discussion of Gay Beast, so if you’re just here for the critical content, jump down past the numbered items and enjoy. If, on the other hand, you’re here for the circumlocutions and verbosity, stick around!
1. Our next couple of weeks – You probably noticed that we did not post anything new until the evening yesterday. We’re really sorry. Kevin and I are in the final throes of the school year and are crazily overwhelmed with all of the attendant paperwork, hoop-jumping and frantic instruction associated with our day jobs. Diamond Jim (not a teacher) is in Guam. Don’t ask. Believe me, I’d rather be writing reviews than IEPs, but the internets aren’t really coming through with paychecks quite yet. If you are both wildly upset about yesterday’s lack of timely content and a billionaire, put us on the dole and you can read all you want. Until then, chill out. We’ll make it up to you in the summer.
2. The Google – Strangely, this one does tie into today’s featured act. For those of you hammering away on your cheap guitars in the garage, hoping to one day lay your band’s electro-funk masterpiece to tape, pick the name of your band wisely, making sure to keep the constraints of the internet in mind. Gay Beast is a cool name and all, but it’s not helping any random hits come to your myspace from any search engine. (Take a second, open a new tab and google “Gay Beast.” Unless you are at work. Then definitely do not google “Gay Beast.”) The same goes for band names like “Iran” and “The Story Of.” There is no easy way to search for these bands. Why? Because they picked horrible, horrible names for search engines. Googling Iran just gives you a bunch of stuff on the country, not on the sweet tunes. (I want “Airport ’79,” not stupid Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.) Something like, say, Thunder Scalp Zorn Dagger will only return results for the band named Thunder Scalp Zorn Dagger. That is a great name for a band. I’ve got a ton of them. E-mail me if you need one. (Thunder Scalp Zorn Dagger is free. If you’re going to name your band that, let me know so I can take it off my list.)
3. The nature of the blogosphere – We’re really starting to hone in on today’s band, so start paying attention. You know what we are about; Kevin talked about this pretty eloquently last week. We’re going to tell you about stuff that is off high quality. I’d like to add a little bit of a caveat to that. I’m not always going to write about music that I enjoy. Most of the time I do. Today might not be one of those times. However, I’m never going to write about music that doesn’t have some sort of redeeming quality. I won’t piss on your shoes and tell you it’s raining. I’d like to think that I have enough of a critical lens to appreciate music that I don’t particularly enjoy. Further, things which make abject stabs at being unenjoyable are kind of interesting, no? I think that we’d argue that our peers in the blogosphere might write glowingly about a band to give the appearance of hipness or, alternately, pan a band to give that same impression. We’ve been saying from the jump that we don’t give a shit if you think we’re cool. All this to say that you won’t catch me blowing sunshine up anybody’s tuchas or saying anything overtly mean. You can trust me.
4. Art – Art doesn’t have to be pretty. I’d even go a touch further and say that good art challenges what we think a word like “pretty” means. Scott McCloud (author of the amazing Understanding Comics, which you should read if you haven’t) talks about art as anything that people do that isn’t a necessity; essentially, his argument is that if it’s not getting you food or helping you get laid, it’s art. Past that, (this is mine now, not his), I’d argue that art of all stripes has some merit. For music, if it’s playing into some commercial expectation, it’s helping you eat, so it’s less arty. If it’s playing into some hipster mindset, it’s helping you get laid, so it’s less arty. Nothing wrong with either of those, but there it is. If, however, it’s not particularly commercial and it’s not particularly cool, you’re flying high on the art meter. That, friends and readers, finally brings us around to Gay Beast, which is, according to this definition, high art.
Gay Beast are a Minnesota based trio that pump out disorienting and manic alt-alt-electronic tinged half-psychedelic noise. (I just made that genre up. Mark it down. When there’s a journal of alt-alt-electronic tinged half-psychedelic noise, I want me some royalties.) The songs are often like knives to the eardrums, assaulting the listener with a whole slab of sonic action. Things seem to be pretty well balanced between wildly unpredictable and chaotic and vaguely song based. “White Diamonds,” an early favorite for me, is an explosion of off-key saxophone blarings, jarring tempo shifting drums, electronic pops and beeps and a crunching, out of sync guitar riff. It is four minutes of absolute anarchic mayhem. As alluded to above, you’re not going to be tapping you toes or humming along for this one. Rather, you’ve kind of got to sit back and admire the brass it takes to throw this much shit onto a record. It’s a tough song to love (and it kind of typifies the record), but it is an easy song to admire. It’s finally time to get to that Mark Rothko painting up there. (And look, I’m not saying that Gay Beast is Mark Rothko, I’m just trying to make a point.) You can be into Rothko while acknowledging that it’s weird and difficult and hard to pin down. Same thing with Gay Beast. You’re not playing this at Sunday brunch, but it’s cool as hell to look at.
Some of the tracks veer more closely to a traditional structure. “Exploding Knee” is just as jarring and out-of-sync, but there are some vocals to hang your hat on. The album’s opening track “Beach” verges on tuneful. For the most part though, the trio, (Isaac Rotto on guitar, Daniel Luedtke on keys, saxophone and vocal, Angela Gerend on drums and electronics) don’t seem to be interested in any sort of identifiable idiom. They are making clanging noise that occasionally comes together in a sort of synchronous howl, but that more often diverges down wildly disparate and startling paths. All that said, this is the kind of album that requires listening. You very well may not like it, but you’ll have to marvel at the artistry on display. (Probably.)