A Retrospective Review of Beulah – The Coast is Never Clear

In the summer of 2004, indie rock was in the process of breaking through to a widespread audience with bands like Modest Mouse and Franz Ferdinand scoring massive hits.  Toiling for years in obscurity and tiny clubs, some talented bands like The Shins and The National had almost reached the point where they could cash in all their hard work and finally begin to enjoy some notoriety.  Unfortunately for us fans, the music business model had exhausted and disenchanted the San Francisco outfit Beulah by this time and drove them to call it quits in 2004 after their properly titled farewell record Yoko.  WhileYoko itself is bitter but hypnotic, two years prior the band released The Coast is Never Clear, arguably the band’s pinnacle and one of the finest pop rock records of the decade.

Released on September 11, 2001-this record may have been lost between the dying days of cock rock with bands like Limp Bizkit and Stain’d and the resurgence of garage rock with bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes.  In case this record passed you by, let me state my case for you to check it out.

The record opens with the hazy and brief “Hello Resolven”  which welcomes everyone to “wake up the kids” before track 2 “A Good Man is Easy to Kill” takes off as frontman Miles Kurosky confesses “don’t know about God, but I believe in you” , as he pleads for a reciprocated love with strings and horns washing over fuzzy guitar hooks.

“Gene Autry”, perhaps the catchiest song in the band’s catalog rides a sunshine riff as Kurosky sings “when I get to California, gonna write my name in the sand…I’m gonna lay this weary head on someone who I think will care” before contrasting that sunny day with dire lyrics like “and when the city spreads out, just like a cut vein everybody drowns sad and lonely”.

Clever chord changes and beautiful melodies throughout the record are reminiscent of Brian Wilson’s finest moments, with Kurosky’s melodramatic musings ringing tried and true.  Co-Beulah leader and multi-instrumentalist Bill Swan provides splendid horn work throughout the record, along with a host of other musicians on woodwinds and strings which creates a grandiose but never indulgent wall of sound.  Songs like “Popular Mechanics for Lovers” and “Silver Lining” sound as if they could have been plucked straight from a Big Star record sounding immediately accessible but artistically assured.

The band flirts with straight up bossanova in the sarcastic but lovely “What Will You Do When Your Suntan Fades?” with lyrics like “all those drugs you take can not help to save your soul”  that poke fun of the superficial habits that arise in summer days.  With throbbing upright bass pumping throughout, the horns and piano harken back to back memories of countless wasted days at the beach.

Like any great record, repeated listening will bring a new favorite song each time with lingering gems like “Cruel Minor Change” or my personal favorite “Burned by the Sun”.  Kurosky displays his chameleon-like vocal ability with a painful whisper ala Elliott Smith in “I’ll Be Your Lampshade”  as he sings “come on friend, there’s poison in your veins-come on friend you know I feel the same” before he soulfully swaggers through the charismatic highlight “Hey Brother”.

Kurosky often sounds like an outsider looking in, or perhaps someone desperately trying to save a relationship that will surely disappear with sunset.  Perhaps his frustration with the band’s critical acclaim but lack of financial success was beginning to rise to the surface, or maybe it was just a precursor to the division and separation that is resolutely overtaking on their next record Yoko.  Strangely enough, the bitter and self loathing lyrics create a perfect storm with production that makes each song sound as if they were dipped in sunshine and surfwax.

During the closer “Night is the Day Turned Inside Out” Kurosky assures the listener “I don’t love you to death, but I’d die if you left”  and it might be the ultimate display of his instability and lovable bipolarity that rules the record.  While Beulah may go down in the books as unsung heroes of indie rock, their records will always be a true testament to the band’s greatness.

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