Diversity is antithetical to popular success, especially in the music business. The giants of rock, hip-hop and pop evolve slowly if ever, churning out standard, tried and tested hits. For this reason, bands like Beep Beep will never make it to the top of the popular charts. But that’s not really their goal.
On Enchanted Islands, Omaha rockers Beep Beep return with another mixed bag of sounds. With these 14 diverse tunes they fit in well on their Saddle Creek label, which boasts a roster of great indie-alternative bands like Bright Eyes, Cursive and Ladyfinger (NE). And like their labelmates, Beep Beep aren’t hindered by any notions of genre boundaries.
Opening song I See You! jangles along with dark but playful guitar riffs and falsetto vocals in a type of demented circus, Man Man style. It’s a quick and appropriately strange beginning to a powerful and complex album. Then, immediately, Mermaid Struggle takes off with a frantic drumbeat and fast, barely tonal guitars. The songs continue to unravel, and it’s hard to pin down a single element that weaves this album together. One thing is sure: Beep Beep are gifted musicians with an ear for arrangements and album pacing.
Beep Beep’s arrangements have a way of defying expectations. Wooden Nickels, for example, starts out with only piano and vocals, vaguely reminiscent of Ben Folds. What might grow into a piano ballad or arena rock song actually builds into a jazz section, complete with an impressive saxophone solo, before progressing into an awkward mid-tempo piano pop tune. Unadventurous listeners might dismiss this sort of arrangement as being unfocused, but for those who appreciate nonstandard elements, Beep Beep is a blessing.
The band can even don an oversized alternative cowboy hat when necessary. Return To Me has a Western, Americana, rustic desert feel to it, with plucked guitars and a plodding drumbeat. The Lion’s Mouth, replete with organ, feels like a slow country ballad, sulking by like a wounded lover. But the songs are more of an homage to country music than actual country songs themselves. Like everything else here, Beep Beep put their own stamp on the standard structure of things.
Experimental rock also flourishes. Goodbye Sunshine and Seppuku could be taken right out of the Deerhoof songbook. Beep Beep can bend their sounds just south of proper at just the right times, delivering a solid blast of confusion, but pulling back for soft, sweet songs like Baby Shoes and Only See Me. Their experimental antics are tempered by a delicate ear for song arrangements and album pacing. Enchanted Islands is anything but static – it ebbs and flows with energy, pulling the listener off the beaten path of normal mainstream albums.
So if they’re not trying to get to the top of the charts, what is Beep Beep’s goal as a band? They seem intent on crafting their music the way they want to, with no concern for matters of standard verse-chorus song structures. But at the same time, Enchanted Islands is not as entirely challenging as some art rock bands can get. There are semblances of order, but the elements are mixed up and mashed together to make an enchanting collage of sound.