Beauty Pill, “I Don't Live Today” (Ernest Jenning Record Co.)
Beauty Pill were one of the more obscure artists to record for Washington DC's revered Dischord label—and one of its least typical, sonically. Many people—including your blogger—missed their brief flourishing for Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson's empire in 2003-2005, so it's nice of Ernest Jenning Record Co. to gather Beauty Pill's complete Dischord recordings in one handy 23-track album titled Blue Period (out January 20, 2023, including a first-time-ever vinyl release). The retrospective will include The Unsustainable Lifestyle album and You Are Right to Be Afraid EP, plus previously unreleased outtakes and demos.
Led by guitarist/vocalist Chad Clark (ex-Smart Went Crazy), this DC band made deceptively accessible rock, but their song structures and timbres skewed weirder than most of their indie rock peers'. Some of their songs are danceable, but in ways that might flummox LCD Soundsystem fans. The prevalent mode is melancholy beauty and a light-handed gravitas, which may appeal to fans of Helium and Quix*o*tic. Beauty Pill's oddly muted cover of the Pretenders' “Tattooed Love Boys” (which doesn't appear on this collection) shows how to approach a familiar classic from strange angles and make you appreciate the original anew.
That skill also surfaces in Beauty Pill's reinvention of the Jimi Hendrix Experience's “I Don't Live Today.” Clark and company imbue a slacker vibe on the galvanizing song from 1967's Are You Experienced. Clark's voice is a model of understatement, even on the chorus, where his delivery is more a confidential aside than Jimi's passionate declamations. Chad knows that he can't match Hendrix's ornate feedback sculptures and rococo solos, so he mutes his guitar to a bulbous murmur that conveys the song's abject frustration in more subtle ways while adding Moog augmentation. Drummer Devin Ocampo does his best to equal Mitch Mitchell's mercurial rolling and tumbling rhythms, and the contrast with Clark's insular delivery works wonders.
The release of this long out-of-print material serves as vindication for Clark, who let a negative Pitchfork review of The Unsustainable Lifestyle mess with his head, leading to depression and him hiding his music from the public for years. Hallelujah, Beauty Pill lives today.
Corey J. Brewer, “Dune Buggy” (SFI Recordings)
Seattle musician/composer Corey J. Brewer's obsession with cult horror films has yielded another excellent imaginary soundtrack in Velvet Vampire. (The Stephanie Rothman-directed film came out in 1971.) It's pretty much in the same haunted, crimson-tidal wheelhouse as his phenomenal 2021 collab with Erik Blood as Blutbraüer, Andy Warhol's Meat for Wolfman. And if you dug Brewer's alternate soundtrack for Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, which he exhibited at Northwest Film Forum in 2017, you'll likely want to surrender to Velvet Vampire.
The album begins strongly, as “Dinner with Diane” evokes the spooked, stark trip-hop of mid-'90s Scorn (highest praise). Even though he doesn't flaunt it that often, Brewer's got the funk. “The Mechanic” rides an ominous low drone that would curl David Lynch's toes, while “The Desert”'s a subtle, effective creeper, eerily serene ambient music of darkest aquamarine hues and “Susan's Discovery” is as tenebrous as the dankest Lustmord emission. With its gorgeously wistful flute (or is it a recorder?) drifting through a crystalline percussion motif and distant funk beats, “Through the Mirror” gleams with otherworldly beauty.
“Dune Buggy” stands out as the album's most action-packed track, powered by girthy drums that punch with the impact of Stephen Morris's on Joy Division's “She's Lost Control” and shot through with whip-crack percussion and synths that percolate and purr up a sandstorm. Despite what its title implies, “Dune Buggy” could be the coldest dance-club banger of the 2020s; it seethes with more chilling intrigue than anything this side of giallo-soundtrack legends Goblin. It's long past time that somebody tapped Brewer to score an actual modern, arty horror movie. The man has the bloody chops, to say the least.
Velvet Vampire is available via SFI Recordings on cassette and download.