“Anger!” hollered Jimi, bold as love.
But while anger had its moments on Axis: Bold as Love, he left listeners playing with frustration, not anger. Hendrix would never lift the lid on what simmered and seethed underneath. Not until, Electric Ladyland, that is. Hendrix pulled the veil off only for us suckers to see nothing but hazy, moody, broody psychedelia.
Yeah, the eyes were no longer blind and the ears no longer dumb, but the fog of war brewed under just as much as it misted up top. The feeling that shit was not right? Palpable as a high pulp, orange juice acid burning, melting flesh on bone. Pat Benatar’s battlefield of love had nothing on the pure war and terror that Electric Ladyland builds up to, looking all along the watchtower.
Recently, however, one group of rockers had me wondering if they had entered the jungle, tried to cut through the vines, brushes and branches, had found an old juiced-up jukebox of destruction, and then stalked me home with it, tasting last blood, had me looking behind my back for Charlie with a bowie knife and a crazed, yellow-eyed stare and scream.
That group is Beaches. The album is Second of Spring.
Right away, you might ask me: “What in the damned hell are you talking about? This sounds nothing like Hendrix!”
And I must concede you’re right—there’s no real musical references, no guitar riffs played front-and-backwards and where the Experience was trio—guitar, bass and drums—Beaches is a quintet—guitar, guitar, guitar, bass and drums. Hendrix may have stewed with war and rage but for a good full 9 cuts, guitarists Antonia Sellbach, Alison Bolger and Ali McCann are gunshot, artillery-fire, bomb-drops personified. Flying over the field like Wagnerian Valkyries and raining hell.
These ladies are working to make sure the Australian psychedelic wave is actually a scarlet tsunami.
And, perhaps at the end of it, psychedelia is the best way to describe war. Messy and without messiah, only heralds ‘fore the next round of riffs. Jagger’s screaming for shelter between them, Morrison grieving for the unknown soldiers after the last, Hendrix looking across the ramparts for who’s next.
And who’s next is Bolger, McCann, Sellbach, Gill Tucker and Karla Way.
Make no bones about it, this is a riot grrl, Mogwai-like, psychedelic effort. Vocals are damn near impossible to fully understand and should we survive to the next cut, I’ll bet you five bucks the lyrics are lost forever. They bark orders against the blazing payloads of the riffwork. Sellbach is on lead facemelter duty for most of the album, but it’s not like she’s doing all this alone, no, no, no, no, no. On “Void” the theory presents itself: McCann and Bolger flank each ear and pull them into the void, now stuck in space, Sellbach hurtles with the inertia of a neutron star. Dense, but not merely redhot, she’s plasmic; her guitar is a star and your ears are right to next it. So, careful now or—
Oops, they’ve melted.
And when Sellbach settles in the back, it’s Bolger who takes lead buzzsaw on “Calendar,” ready to carve into the skull, just to make sure you remember the date and the name. With a Cure like call-and-echo (Don’t think the Cure are psychedelic? Well, “If Only We Could Sleep Tonight” would like your name and address for a visit), Sellbach and McCann mirror a scratchy rhythm, trading halves of the cut to accompany Bolger. With three guitarists working as a nuclear fusion core though what else is there? Well, Tucker and Way should not be slept on. Way’s drumming on “September” and for most of the double album, gives insight to a sloppy chaos and reverb. When there’s no reverb, there’s a garagepunk smash (without any mindless thrash). She’s working to make sure you stay in a mood. But she never takes control of cuts. Not like Tucker does. See: Tucker’s bass just sits right under it all, making sure “Void” never goes too light. Further, Tucker wants people to realize just how goddamn awesome a bassline can be. So on “Contact,” she leads the cut into a low and slow moodiness before taking it out with a beeping, booping distress signal to alien life. A slow capsule, floating, floating, floating and gone through that endless void as producer John Lee’s lonely synthesizer searches for any listeners…
Boom. Tucker. Bassline. The capsule contains a video—clips of that goddamn hellzone in which the ladies of Beaches find themselves. “Divers” sling-shots back to that unceasing sound of war. Forget the Gold Coast and Tahiti, these bad Beaches’ are going to Borneo and Okinawa.
The trifecta of guitars rev up, gunshots in the front, behind and side-to-side surrounding the megatank bassline. Shootouts galore culminate in free-for-all firefights before calming down (it’s all relative) into random fire before bang! Daemons cackle to this cacophony of cataclysmic proportions. They drink in this blood and sweat and fire. They revel to this rarified recording of total war. And to make sure they stay sated: John Lee’s synthesizer shoots off like a missile, aiming indiscriminately for more.
By the time it’s over, somehow, we survive on a helicopter fleeing the scene of the crimes. Bolger strums us along, Way takes our heartbeats to a slow, medicated crawl and McCann sings us into comatose. “Wine” may be the title, but the effect is queen morphine. A royal proto-punk plod (Velvet Undergound, anyone?) with a Bolger solo that reverbs and wahs for days.
And that closes the first album of this double record effort.
How do they follow it up? Well, they take us back home. Where those royal proto-punks and popular culture winos want to know just what the fuck is happening abroad. Balancing this pop-punk psyche, Beaches plays on to more middling results. McCann and Bolger flank while Way duets with Sellbach duet on “Arrow.” The cut flies “straight as an arrow,” which as of now is the only clear lyric you will hear on this double effort. On “When You’re Gone,” the ladies keep up the pop-punk façade but bring back the dirty psych with which just sounded wonderfully warlike on the first record. The only probably with the dirtiness? It kills Sellbach’s keyboards just as much as it kills Lee’s synthesizer efforts on the first half of the record. But I’ll take that dirtiness over the pop-punk heavy “Arrow.”
With “Golden,” Beaches returns to that space of “Contact,” haunting vocals unleash from Bolger’s lips, as the cut wraps itself in the blood-bathed coattails of “Divers” and then dropping a sonic, wailing solo, a cousin to “Wine.” It’s like they tied all three songs into one. But I have a creeping sense of dread by this point that Beaches might not know when to call it quits.
With “Walk Around” and “Bronze Age Babies,” this dread turns to suspicion. Both tracks have their strengths: a saxophonic buzz accompanied by an industrial-grade synthesizer keeps the former fresh and just after, “Bronze Age Babies” (Tucker’s own baby of a cut) falls into the weirdly entertaining category with a recorder, a whistle flare and a clap beat that carries the cut through all 3 minutes and 35 seconds until it discombobulates with an onomatopoeiac ping wee-ooooow. It’s a meme of a Foley artist’s dream, I swear to Clapton.
Yet from there, the album falls into a mood that it will not let go. “Grey Colours” coos and woos with a guitar, but that’s it. “Mothers and Daughters” brings out the space of “Contact” with a single menacing chord exchange, but once again that’s it. Not until “Mutual Delusion” does the album sort of find its time to end, a chanced it passed by “Golden.”
If “Mutual Delusion” had followed up “Golden” in fact, the album would sound coherently more succinct. Instead Beaches drag it out with tracks that would do better on an EP. That’s always the problem of a double album though—momentum is a tricky physical concept because it requires more energy to keep it going. When an album like Second of Spring builds up all that momentum by the first 6 cuts, doing any more risks a mindlessness. Even Led Zeppelin runs into this problem with Physical Graffiti, by the end of the album, ears are sore and brains ache. Both albums are damn good listens, but both albums should not be placed on endless repeat or the mind will melt out the ears and the lids will droop numb over the eyes.
As far as keeping up the hazy, proto-punk of Electric Ladyland, though? Beaches will only satisfy with Second of Spring. Just enjoy the first half and pick darlings on the second and you will find yourself riding through and strong along that psychedelic riot grrl wave.
Quick Impressions: Under a thick-as-pea-soup haze, Beaches’ Second of Spring sets out to blow your mind wide open with a cut-off shotgun on a sprawling, cosmical yet jungle-like battlefield of sound. Guitars storm, whirl and howl. Basslines thrum. Drums beat. By side two however, they come home ready to riot like punks. The result? Somewhat uneven, but nonetheless satisfying.
Producer(s): John Lee, Beaches
Label: Chapter Music
- “Natural Tradition”
- “When You’re Gone”
- “Walk Around”
- “Bronze Age Babies”
- “Grey Colours”
- “Mothers and Daughters”
- “Mutual Delusion”