The self-titled debut from Beast begins with “Devil” and ends with “Satan”—a fact which might suggest a garish Anton LeVay tribute album rotten with black metal clichés. But no. This Beast is a surprisingly inventive album, blending rap-rock, electronica, powerhouse vocal soul, trip-hop, jazz, and gospel in new ways.
Beast is comprised of Jean-Phi Goncalves and Betty Bonifassi. Bonifassi plays the role of epic diva—and plays it well, considering that she only speaks French, but must rap and sing in English throughout the album. Goncalves does everything else—much to his surprise, considering he hadn’t planned to do any vocal work for this album at all. Perhaps it is this inexperience that helps him deliver such raw performances like the rap-rock he throws down on “Devil” between gospel-inflected backing vocals.
The second track, “Finger Prints”, is a lovely collage of dirty beats and Bonifassi’s sprawling vocals. The beats give way to synths, electric guitars, and Goncalves half-rapping “if I could make my eyes come back / I would see where we went wrong”, a lyric soon repeated by Bonifassi as the synths build and soar.
These two tracks aptly represent the album’s aesthetic of beauty and grime layered throughout. “Microcyte” is another song that does this well, blending lovely keyboards with dirty beats and Goncalves’ insistent raps with lines like “I need abortion for the doctor within me”. “Mr. Hurricane” opens with more dated funk sounds than heard elsewhere on the album. Then, suddenly, it’s a floor-filler whose chorus could rock the pants off a Beefeater (which has admittedly not been tested).
“Out of Control” is Bonifassi’s first solo rap number. Here, her language barrier becomes an asset—her crisp phonic articulation helps her maintain the song’s rhythm. Ghostly backing vocals haunt the chorus’s riff “out of control, out of control, we are getting out of control”. Once she’s taken the spotlight, she’s hesitant to relinquish it, and she continues commanding attention on “Ashtray”. Obscured by apocalyptic synths and fuzzy guitars, her voice still bleeds through with its ferocity intact as she croons “now I’m dying like a cigarette in an ashtray”. Then a Charles Mingus sample appears and reappears over and over, increasingly sped up, while a desolate bass and the sad synths paint over it, until Bonifassi returns.
The music on Beast is so genius that it’s a shame to focus only on the vocals, but the vocal chemistry between Gonvalves and Bonifassi is just so exciting. Take, for instance, “Dark Eyes”. Goncalves quietly speaks his part with simple backing synths and bass, and Bonifassi enters, creating a counterpart of grandeur.
While the two interludes admittedly don’t add much to the album, there is no filler here. Each song offers something new and displays different sides of Goncalves and Bonifassi. This spirit carries on through the album’s twelve tracks, with Bonifassi pulling out a Southern gospel performance on “Satan” that calls her Quebeçoise status into question. A hearty portion of slightly dated rap fills out the song’s midsection before listeners are plunked down again in an Alabama Baptist church. The album closes with Bonifassi belting out one final “Satan, your kingdom must come down”.
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// Notes from the Road
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