There are several reasons why it is really hard to review a record by the Residents. One reason is that there is virtually no frame of reference other than, well, other Residents’ records. Another is that the Residents still value the sense of mystery with which the band is associated. Even a review copy of the latest release, Beautiful Eyes, is available by download only, it arrives by email and it contains absolutely no press release. The Residents have long liked it this way, so there has always been very little information, beyond the music itself, from which to form opinions.
The 20 tracks on Beautiful Eyes are a lot like the band. They are mysterious, removed, utterly distant and unlike anything else you’ve heard. “What Have My Chickens Done Now” opens Beautiful Eyes with an atmospheric, almost Asian, meditative theme, which is calming even as it creates a sense of tension for what’s to come. “Pinkrosebuds” fills and fulfills that tension with a cinematic sense of scope while retaining elements of the initial theme. In fact, listeners will likely note the recurring reflective qualities of that theme persist and permeate the entire collection, sometimes in the guise of chimes, sometimes in watery sounds. Next, “Notchi” makes what might be described as paranoid progress before listeners find themselves sinking in a sinister cover of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe”. Yes, it’s weird, but it really works.
“Inner Space” returns to the journey, as it were, perhaps revealing some of what goes on behind those Beautiful Eyes, if not what motivates those once hidden behind those eyeball masks. But then comes “Return to Sender, the Elvis song recited over ominous synths and a generic beat, and I’m not so sure if that one works. It’s just plain weird.
The next few tracks resume the reflective, resonant roaming. Often, the main elements of a track are identified in the titles; “Cold Metal Strikes a Soldier’s Bible” has a mournful rendition of taps and funeral church bells. Other times, the relationship is less obvious. “Saturnalia (BINAURAL)” evokes a long lonely stretch of road and hours of night driving, more than any image one would relate to Saturnalia, even with the primitive rhythm of the drums. Although this album is clearly meant to be experienced as a whole, “Saturnalia (BINAURAL)” is probably the standout, if you happen to be looking for one.
However, that’s not really what the Residents are about; instead, the band, and Beautiful Eyes, seem to be all about unusual perspectives and altering perceptions. On the website, this album listed alongside the description, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. The last song, “Available Piece” sums that up perfectly. Starting as a peaceful piano piece with sweetly swelling strings, it leads the listener down a primrose path only to encounter a forest of frantic, frenzied notes dissolving into a deliciously dark dissonance before returning to the road, still pretty to some, but ...changed. And that appears to be the point. After all, who’s to say what’s beautiful? It all depends on how you see it.
- Multiple songs Artist site