Jeff Beam: Is Believed To Have Been

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.”


Sign me up

KGFREEZE returns with plenty of hand raisers

Because Kyle Gervais is constitutionally unable to be in a band, we are left with his solo project, KGFREEZE. While that may be frustrating for fans (and members) of great bands like Cosades and Grand Hotel, it isn’t bad consolation for those interested in hearing truly interesting and exploratory music.

And because Gervais has decided the classic “band” music-making structure is not for him, it’s even easier for him to pivot with his songwriting whims. On his first KGFREEZE album, Sociopath, that meant he played all the instruments himself and created a grimy, inward-looking piece, as the name would imply. Similarly, on the brand-new VOLUNTEER (I’m just going with capitalization thing – AP Style be damned) he has enlisted a Brady Bunch of collaborators, who share songwriting credits and contribute vocals, musicianship and production.

The results are among the best in an already-impressive resume of recorded works. The album is dynamic, engaging, and thought-provoking – even at times a whole lot of fun.

“Better Falsetto” is the highlight, which you know already if you’ve seen the video charging about social media. It is Gervais aping Justin Timberlake, a recalcitrant crooner who doesn’t have to worry about what the radio edit might sound like, with Jared Burst filling in for Jay-Z in the rapped bridge. Almost as a throwaway, it has a hook like Seal’s “Kissed by a Rose” (I had forgotten the Batman connection to that song) that will have you belting out the chorus in random places before you know you’re doing it.

Burst, too, does great work. He merges with the verse in a half-time slur, then slaps you out of your reverie: “Who gives a fuck about whatever his name is?” And Sean Morin (Daro, Cambiata, etc.) sets the mood with a works of synths and beats.

This rival is often a topic of conversation. In “Talk About Love,” Gervais wonders, “How would he feel if he knew what I was doing to you.” But then he changes the pronouns, turns the song on its head, makes the finish of the six-and-a-half-minute piece into an entreaty: “Let’s talk about love … whatever that means.” And the last minute-plus is a distorted fade-out, like being forcibly dragged, with teases at speeding back up that ultimately sputter out in Derek Gierhan’s drums.

In the strutting and spare “Top Secret,” we get the other side of the story, in the form of Sara Hallie Richardson’s dark evanescence, peppered with laughter and chatting: “I’ve met you many times before/ You give nothing and keep asking for more … Gotta make sure that you meet your needs before you meet mine/ I can’t begin to explain to you, how useless you are.”

And, yet, you get the sense they’re sleeping together. (The couple in the song. Not Gervais and Richardson.)

Gervais and company love contradictions – changes of tempo, of mood and setting. The opening and title track is nothing but moody synths, slightly industrial, with muted vocals that mimic the lyrics, “I don’t really care.” And then, after three minutes, it gets awesome, with guitar melody and chords in opposing channels and downright danceable.

Suddenly, that extended, all-instrumental jam crashes into “Power + Status,” declaring immediately that, “I still get fucked up on week nights / With people I don’t know / When you’re not around” in traditional guitar/bass/drums structure. This is the Gervais you know best, full-throated and doubled delivery: “I talk a lotta shit people about / People I shouldn’t talk shit about.”

And he’s right. No one cares about that. Especially if he can combine with the likes of Miek Rodrigue to elicit pointed guitar solos and Jacob Battick’s alter-ego AFRAID to create the Moby-like “Good Times Roll,” a repeating and cycling mash-up of early rock and contemporary digitization. The piano is like a skipping CD in the open, pounding and insistent, but AFRAID is warm and inviting, careful in his delivery, not unlike Damon Albarn in “Tender,” which similarly rolled the same words around to see how they sounded.

Then we get a deep bass, a flute-like lilt, and some snare. Like the 7:18-long “Song 9,” it’s the kind of work you can listen to on repeat for hours if need be, though “Song 9” is more like something off the Sixteen Candles Soundtrack, with Pretenders licks and a Men Without Hats” keyboard line. Plus lines like, “I just want to hold you / Sometimes / I think I’d like to get to know you.”

Is that you, Ducky?

The whole thing is just ducky by me, I’ll say that. KGFREEZE doesn’t make easy pop fare, but you can see the wheels turning behind every track and you can listen to them for days on end.