Never Heard of 'Em: Beat Happening
Anna Minard claims to "know nothing about music." For this column, we force her to listen to random records by artists considered to be important by music nerds.
Beat Happening came into my life after an online commenter on an earlier column recommended it, after a careful analysis of my previous writing. Said matthwlnd: "I have finally discovered a pattern among most of your positive reviews: sincerity (see: Jonathan Richman/Neutral Milk Hotel). Have you tried Beat Happening yet? Calvin Johnson's sensitive genius might be right up your alley."
Right up my alley? Since when do the picks for this column have anything to do with my alley? I was thankful someone out there in internet land was concerned with my sanity and the kind of alleys I like. This posed a problem, though: If I'd listened to this album without reading that note, I would have had a totally different interaction with it. Generally, I get tied up in a giant burlap sack with some noises, a notepad, and no information, and I'm not allowed out until I've scrawled some first impressions and paper-airplaned them out to our music staff. I'm usually not hoping for any outcome, just letting some new thing wash over my head.
I can tell immediately that Beat Happening's, erm, occasional lack of commitment to rhythm and singing in tune might've driven me crazy if I weren't on such a trusting search for sensitive genius and sincerity. Vocalist Calvin Johnson's low, hoarse drone might have annoyed me. The bubbly guitar and breathless monotone choruses on "I Love You" and "Bad Seeds"? A little much for me.
But like I fuckin' said, I'm looking for sensitivity! Sincerity! And if that's what you're looking for, you can find it. First it's the brisk walking gait of the guitar line on "What's Important" that perks my ears. Then "Foggy Eyes." They're both songs with a beat; they're also songs that have the female vocalist, Heather Lewis.
Then the lyrics jump out at me and I get why someone would recommend this. Johnson sings, "You see, to me, the best part of sex is walking home, holding hands, after swimming in the lake" and "We were wearing our pajamas/We were eating some bananas." The last track is about this "crazy powerful in-love-with-you thing" and how he's too shy to talk about it.
When I decided to do research, I found that these guys are from Olympia and Calvin Johnson started K Records, which I know of because our offices are brimming with piles of CDs. Then I felt like a dope because it seems extra stupid to not have heard of them. But no matter! I listened until I felt like I was friends with everybody, snacking on retro candy and cuddling with a cat, then started planning which tracks should go on which mix CDs for friends.
I give this a "you can tambourine along, try it!" out of 10.