(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Recording review - Beats Antique, A Thousand Faces - Act 1 (2013)

Every taste offers another intriguing melange

Beats Antique may let their guest artists step up front and show their faces, but the exotic blend of Gypsy flavored electronica reveals the band behind the mask. The songs may vary quite a bit, but there's an open minded aesthetic and familiar sonic predilections that will satisfy long-time fans. That established audience is the target for A Thousand Faces - Act 1. The self-released album spawned a Kickstarter project to create an innovative stage production that would show off the new music and their fans quickly responded to support the vision. It's hardly news for a band to turn to crowd-funding, but many of their supporters may not directly benefit from the show if they live off the tour route. Beats Antique overcame that challenge because their fan base appreciates their cross-disciplinary artistic vision and can buy into the thrill of patronage.

Like their other releases, A Thousand Faces is as influenced by Zoe Jakes' choreography as it is by musicians David Satori and Sidecar Tommy Cappel. The sinuous and exotic "Kismet" is inseparable from Jakes' dancing. Sarod player Alam Khan begins the song with sly glances and calculated deliberation. The song quickly picks up an Arabic belly dancing tonality. As the tune feints forward and then retreats, it's easy to imagine the accompanying dance that weaves along with the spidery creep of the rhythm. "The Approach" also reflects a strong physicality. The Latin horns follow along behind a stalking beat. Like a ritual march or parade, the piece has a heightened theatricality, but it's powered by an aura of nervous excitement. The first half plays larger than life, but it slides into a sparser section full of bass menace. Squiggling electronica weaves around a slide banjo riff for a short interlude before the track returns to the opening pursuit.This has all of the elements that make Beats Antique great. A cultural stew of influences come together, expressed through acoustic and electronic instruments with a rhythm that demands movement and engagement.

A Thousand Faces has its stranger facets as well. "Doors of Destiny" is tossed out as a surrealistically comic interlude. The game show conceit is amusing, but the wonderful Eastern European Gypsy vamp lets it stand up to repeated listening. About two minutes in ("You chose door number two" *meow*), the tune melts down and turns into a dark, dubsteppy roller-coaster. Whooping highs inevitably give way to stripped gear lows. I only wish this musical interlude was longer. The other oddball is the Les Claypools collaboration, "Beezlebub". Claypool's distinctively glitchy bass style is blended with bass grinds and bubbles. The piece captures his off-beat funk and quirky vocals but fits them into the Beats Antique sonic universe, almost as if they're remixing Primus.

The songs evoke a host of different moods and flavors: Balinese-tinged anticipation on "Charon's Crossing", momentous electro-pop with "You The Starry Eyed", and a cinematic turn featuring a sly alien presence on "Viper's Den". Despite all the costume changes, though, it's unequivocally a Beats Antique project and among their finest.

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