Be, being, Been
Something to think about from Jeff Beam
Jeff Beam’s music is something of a luxury. After you’ve acquired all the music you need for car rides and doing work and having parties and working out, then there is space for Beam.
Existing in a bit of space-time on the outskirts of the Flaming Lips and in the near orbit of Wilco’s Foxtrot/Ghost phase, Beam delivers on his promise of psych rock yet again (I’ve lost count of his releases, frankly, but I think this is the sixth full-length, plus a covers album) with the dreamy Is Believed To Have Been, an album just as mixed up between the perfect infinitive and the simple past as its title would indicate.
First there is Beam’s voice, mostly as it’s always been, perhaps more refined. Heavily reverbed, high but not quite falsetto, it’s never particularly melodic, holding onto notes for long periods of time and elongating words so that their timing warps their meaning and renders them nearly meaningless. If you can make them out.
Beam seems to like words, used to enjoy a pun in his track names, but I’m not sure they’re the point this time around.
Maybe just live inside the instrumental title track awhile, surfing the repeating bass and guitar twirl filled with minor, accompanied by a gentle windmill guitar. It’s a jam with keyboards from Jaw Gems’ Ahmad Hassan Muhammad, like someone’s told Phish they absolutely must NOT crescendo, and it drifts like incense, wrapping around your head and sometimes a bit cloying, but generally quite pleasant.
As it bleeds into “Revival Song,” still no vocals, it’s hard not to get a little jazzed up. Maybe it’s not a Phish high, but people might start more than swaying if seeing it live. Beam is great at the bass thrum, the low-end drive, but don’t go in there impatient.
And get a book out. Have a drink. Settle in. Listen in and then tune it out. One song bleeds into another. Not a single chorus will trouble you for a singalong.
The opening “Human Clouds” is playfully industrial, with bells clanging, but the bass is a repeating drone that anchors everything. Maybe it leaves. Maybe it’s just a bit of tinnitus it’s left me with, hanging around like that sun spot on your eye when you look at your phone in the dark. “Wholed” replaces the bells with congas and then does a Ravi Shankar thing (though the sitar is actually on “Cherryfield”), like the Beatles on drugs.
“Everyone at the Same Time” is more like a Ringo tune, with augmented vocals from Kyle Gervais and fellow psych-rocker Dominic Lavoie, and gives the bass a riff to bounce like the soundtrack to Spyhunter. The descending keyboard is a melancholy walk down the street. “Auspicious Minds” has more of a drive to it, a forward lean, though the vocals are just as dreamy as ever, creating a little counterbalance. There’s some of that guitar Spoon might use, but without the strut or the punch. Beam never struts or punches. Really, there’s almost zero bravado at all. But neither is he delicate like a Sufjan Stephens or a Father John Misty.
Which is also because he’s not precious either. There’s more of a choral quality to it, an early gospel maybe, a lamentation or a light dirge. Beam’s certainly never in a hurry. The ukulele at the beginning of “Cherryfield” isn’t the only hint of islands and beaches and a lazy sun: “It’s one thousand degrees/ No one can breathe.” The repeating acoustic guitar ought to remind you quite a bit of “Still Can’t Find My Way Home” if you’re at all a fan of classic rock.
To even have a chance of appreciating it, you’ve got to get yourself to slow down with it. Wait for Beam to roll it out in front of you. Fire one up. Think big thoughts. Embrace the strings and keyboards and muted bass of “Clairvoyance,” as physical as it is audible and find yourself “slowly drifting toward the light.”