Beat Happening

Vinyl Friday #16: Beat Happening “Crashing Through” UK EP

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Ah Beat Happening. That endlessly droning, childish band that I love so dearly. Never has there been a band with the ability to make great music sound so… lazy? I’ve always found describing this band difficult, and I’ve never really read anyone who has been able to do so either. Everything either comes off as misleading or just as an insult meant as a compliment.

“Crashing Through” is a single that pretty much sums up that paradox. It’s minimalist and monotone, yet punchy and actually produces the sound of punching…through.

Unsurprisingly, “Crashing Through” clocks in at under two minutes – my typical attention span for a non-pop song, and a pretty typical length for Beat Happening. The single certainly isn’t a song to dance to, sing a long with or play for your grandmother (unless you have one of those hip grandmothers who enjoy indie lo-fi bands). Though it doesn’t have all the dressings of a typical single, there is still a hook and it still remains a great tune to listen to.

Side A is pretty much a test of endurance. Just how much can you take? “This Many Boyfriends Club” consists of feedback and Calvin Johnson at the top of his game (meaning long held notes that are not always on key). Side B is a bit more musical and traditional, I guess. Dare I say “Look Around” is something worth a bit of hip-swinging, and “That Girl” even throws in a tambourine. The contrast is actually really nice for a shorter EP like this.

Beat Happening have become one of the few bands that make me a bit insane when it comes to buying. I refuse to buy anything of theirs online. Normally I’m fine with this, but it just feels like a dirty deed not finding it myself. If you’re an American fan (or know how to read blog titles), you’ll probably see that this is a UK-only release. Finding Beat Happening records anywhere is pretty damn hard. It’s both a blessing and a curse that they weren’t that successful.

Curse: finding Beat Happening records is nearly impossible in shops. At least it was in the Midwest towns and cities I lived in for the last four years I lived in the States.

Blessing: In theory, this means that there is a possibility that Beat Happening records could always show up in the most unexpected of places.

And that’s how I found my first-ever Beat Happening record. This one.

When I studied abroad I lived in the very posh area of West London. Those few months of “studying” I went crazy trying to buy all the unusual releases I couldn’t find in the States normally (which ended up being a critically damaging past time to my bank account).

There’s an area called Notting Hill (yes like the movie) that my roommates and I regularly visited on Saturdays to indulge in the weekend market on Portobello Road. This area of London is much different than it was even three years ago. Many small, quirky shops are now chain shops and Starbucks. But just those few years ago there was a record shop that was small, dark and held my wildest dreams.

Just a short walk from Rough Trade West was Intoxica Records, now located in a much more central locale in Kentish Town. It was there that I found this baby. The bright yellow and childish drawings were completely recogniseable. I bought it immediately. When I was at the til purchasing my goods, I had a bit of a fan girl moment (one of the few I allow myself) and told the worker that I was so happy to find this album because it was “difficult to find at home.” The man was top-notch and seemed to enjoy my eagerness. He shuffled away for a moment and produced a 7″ single of theirs to add to the pile, “Red Head Walking”.

This baby is great. Beat Happening is a band that sounds exactly like they should on a turntable. It might only be an EP, but it’s still an experience to listen to.

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Can’t get enough Pt. 9

Most people can remember the moment they knew they had fallen in love. It may have been when someone made breakfast for them or the first time they connected with a director’s film for the first time or even trying Eton mess for the first time (how my life was changed from that day forward).

When I first heard “Our Secret,” it was the middle of a particularly sticky and humid Wisconsin summer. The sound coming through my car’s speakers were unlike anything I had ever heard before. I was driving down a particularly shady back road and smoking a cigarette (because that’s what young idiots do). I can still remember that moment, hearing that strange deep, droning baritone voice and the subtle backbeat. That one song filled my heart with a strange sensation that can only be described as falling in love with a band for the very first time.

Beat Happening are an aquired taste, but they are surprisingly easy to get attached to.  Washington-based indie group Beat Happening are ones worth savoring. Many of their songs are quite child-like in sound or lyric and “Our Secret” fits the bill. It is a hypnotic song that beats on in the mind with a certain feeling of darkness. Calvin Johnson’s, who formed the still-impressive K Records in 1982, has possibly one of the most memorable sounds to any musician’s voice (and he can hold an impressively long note).

To people who have never heard Beat Happening before, I’ve always described them in this way: “They are like drawing with a stick in wet cement.” It’s always met with either an amused or bemused look, but I think it still makes sense.

It feels like “Our Secret” should be sad, but the lyrics really convey the ease of falling in love. They are a little strange at times, “that’s why we’re running away. That’s why I had dinner with your family.” To me, these are the very thing young lovers talk about. You have such an idealist way of how things should be, and it’s sweet – a love purely your own.

With the sheer amount of music accessible today, it’s easy to move on from a group for a long period of time, but it’s just as easy to return. Remember that sweet sadness in “Our Secret” was like going back to those days where I was discovering a lot of new music that would could not be forgotten.

Falling back in love with Beat Happening is the best thing I’ve done in a long time.

The more the merrier

I’ve been buying vinyl since I was 13. My parents dumped their old records on me. I was 13 when my mom took me to buy my first album (Beck remixes. No idea why – the idea of grabbing something strange on the shelf is still appealing to me). Earlier this month a report from Nielsen Soundscan said that record sales have gone up 30% (see a lovely graph here at Digital Music News). In a world where music purchases are going down and more people are turning to music streaming, it seems quite unusual.

More and more people are buying vinyl, and maybe you’re thinking about taking a dive. But there really is a strange art to shopping for records. Seasoned buyers have their own art, but there is

1. Don’t be intimidated. It sounds stupid, but it’s true. I’ve had issues before with this. Some big guy things because it’s 43, single and overweight he has better taste in must than you (because there’s such thing as “good” and “bad” taste). He can tell you’re eying the Jazz Fusion records he’s standing in front of, but he won’t fucking move. Intimidation means grabbing things you probably don’t want.

This might be because I’m a young, American girl in a big British city, but I find it easy to be intimidated. If you LOVE Prince, then don’t be afraid to purchase that copy of “Controversy.” Sure that fat man might be judging you, but you get to go home and you dance to “Sexuality.”

2. Buy used. Use you like Mumford & Sons, but your bank account won’t enjoy the £25 price tag. New records are unbelievably pricey. Take a chance on a used record shop instead. There are long-lost treasures hiding in basement shops. There is a shop in the States called Half-Price Books. Even though I came from a small town, there were always surprises tucked away. Big, shiny shops are easy to be lured into but they won’t offer good prices.

3. Do your research. Different shops will carry different types of record. There are your metal shops, indie shops, 60’s girl groups, dub. Make sure you find shops in your area that suit your taste. Chances are if a shop specialises in reggae and you like folk, maybe don’t take the time to visit. The shop owners will be more useful to you if they carry what you want. My best example is when I went to Exotica records in Notting Hill (it’s no longer there, but it was so nice). I had found a Beat Happening record that made me burst out of my skin with excitement. I told the man behind the counter how difficult it was to find records by them back in the States. He seemed genuinely pleased and went behind the counter to show me another Beat Happening album. I was in heaven.

4. Music is a shared experience. When you get home, be sure to spin records with your friends. Buying a record is only one step in the journey of music. There are some people buy records for the mere ability to brag or to own something “rare” or “expensive.” Oh you have an original pressing of “Blonde on Blonde” still in it’s plastic? Great. Take the record and fucking spin it. Don’t let your albums collect dust. We buy vinyl to have a connection with our music. What’s the point if we hide it from the world?