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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Beat Happening: Music To Climb The Apple Tree By

BEAT HAPPENING: MUSIC TO CLIMB THE APPLE TREE BY (1984-2000/2003)

1) Angels Gone; 2) Nancy Sin; 3) Sea Hunt; 4) Look Around; 5) Not A Care In The World; 6) Dreamy; 7) That Girl; 8) Secret Picnic Spot; 9) Zombie Limbo Time; 10) Foggy Eyes; 11) Knock On Any Door; 12) Sea Babies; 13) Tales Of A Brave Aphrodite; 14) Polly Pereguinn; 15) I Dig You.

As a very brief, but obligatory post-scriptum to the true story of Beat Happening, we should mention this collection of singles, EPs, and other rarities, spanning about fifteen years. It was first made available as one of the CDs in the Crashing Through boxset, released by K Records in 2002 and containing just about everything the band ever did; then, a year later, it was issued sepa­rately, for the benefit of those veteran fans who already had all the records.

As it usually happens with these things, you will not find any major surprises here, though. His­torically, I guess, the most important tracks are the last four — recorded by the band in 1988 in collaboration with another indie outfit, Screaming Trees, and containing the proto-grunge rocker ʽPolly Pereguinnʼ that was later named by Kurt Cobain as his favorite song of the 1980s. It does stand somewhere halfway between the heavy psychedelia of the late Sixties and Nirvana's somber grunge declarations of hatred for humanity, but honestly, it's not that good — not even in a bang-your-head-against-the-wall suicidal variety of «good». The sound of it, with the heavily distorted descending riff (a little derivative of Cream's ʽWhite Roomʼ, if you ask me), the deafening bass, and the stone-dead vocals, is morbidly seductive, but the hook-power is quite limited. But I guess the sound was well enough for Kurt on this occasion. Besides, it's really a Screaming Trees song, not a Beat Happening one, so why am I even discussing this?

Another interesting inclusion is the single ʽAngel Goneʼ, which was actually recorded during a brief reunion period in 2000 — and shows that very little had changed in the meantime, except that Calvin's baritone became even deeper, but also more controllable: he is now capable of wea­ving fluent, even slightly mesmerizing vocal melodies (over the same monotonous two-chord guitar jangle) that confirm the band did have talent, after all, no matter how efficiently they tried to hide it for all those years. And the B-side, ʽZombie Limbo Timeʼ, shows that they never lost the scary graveyard side of their personality either — although this track, to be honest, sounds like straightahead black comedy (and could also be easily mistaken for a B-52's outtake).

Fans of You Turn Me On will also be happy to have the single ʽSea Huntʼ, which preceded the album and presaged its style — anthemic singing, heavy echo, and just a touch of offensively out-of-tune violin to remind us that these guys were still downshifters and deconstructors, and what was good for The Velvet Underground was even better for Beat Happening. The rest of the tracks, including alternate (single) versions of ʽNancy Sinʼ and ʽDreamyʼ, just sort of pass by, though. That said, I do admit that I have not been, as of yet, able to listen to the record properly as recom­mended — namely, while in the state of climbing an apple tree — and cannot accurately guaran­tee that it will not sound completely different to the ears of someone busy grappling a tree trunk with all four limbs. Unless, of course, this is simply a veiled hint at the fact that this kind of music can only appeal to 12-year olds, or to any-year olds with the mind of a 12-year old, or to any-year olds who can efficiently simulate the mind of a 12-year old whenever they want to re­cover from the latest political scandal or personal tragedy. Beat Happening, ladies and gentlemen. Give 'em a big hand and all.

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