Lots of us are stoked for the latest Saddle Creek releases. The new Faint album, Bright Eyes’ simultaneous release of two records, Cursive’s new single, etc. Omaha may be a shocking location for a seemingly bottomless pool of inspiration and artistic genius. And for the past few years we music aficionados with discerning taste may have been impressed by each and every band on the label ... but there are limits to our faith in the landlocked state of Nebraska. I’ve reached my saturation level with Beep Beep, the newest Saddle Creek band that’s not really new because most of its members are in other Saddle Creek bands. Business Casual, while it has its bright moments (usually when it sounds like another, better Saddle Creek band), is pretty much a dud—a danceable, raucous, frantic, and flamboyant dud.
How did Beep Beep originate, you ask? Grab a pen and try to keep this straight. Beep Beep co-founders Eric Bemberger and Chris Hughes have been collaborating for years. They also played in a band called the Magentas with Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and The Faint’s Todd Baechle. Beep Beep started in 2001, when Bemberger and Hughes drafted Mike Sweeney and Katie Muth to play drums and bass, respectively. Sweeney is a regular member of the rotating Bright Eyes roster and the drummer for Criteria, a band formed by Cursive’s ex-singer, Steve Pedersen. Muth played oboe on Bright Eyes epic 2002 release, Lifted, or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground. After she decided she’d rather pursue a Masters than a musical career, Muth was replaced by Faint bassist Joel Petersen.
That about sums it up. And so it went that Beep Beep was born. And Business Casual hit records stores in August of 2004. And very few people bought it because a) it wasn’t very good and b) how many people buy debut albums from new Saddle Creek bands anyway, even if they are good?
Business Casual opens with “I Am the Secretary”, a spastic and agitated quickie that starts out with a solid enough groove from Sweeney and Muth. But, as soon as Hughes and Bemberger open their mouths, any sense of orientation one had is lost. Not to say that sonic bafflement is a bad thing, but in this case, the wacky vocals, the harsh guitar, and the more sensible rhythms combine to form an overwhelming and kind of scary experience.
“Misuse Their Bodies” is the album’s single, and by far its most accessible track. The singer offers a recognizable melody, while Sweeney keeps the dance/punk beats rolling at a comfortable pace. Muth even adds some backing vocals that make the song borderline pretty. Throw in a church bell and an Edge-like guitar riff, and Beep Beep might have a hit.
“Giggle Giggle” also rocks, with staccato guitar and vocals. But by the second half of the song, I was mainly freaked out by Bemberger crooning creepily, “I’m gonna touch you like raindrops.” Skip the rest of the song, the next one’s better. “Electronic Wolves” sounds like a Faint tune, with Baechle-esque vocal cadence, and a ridiculously hip disco beat. The guitar riffs lose some of their previous shrillness and adopt a more classically dirty rock’n'roll feel. Bemberger and Hughes keep their voices under control and refrain from the disturbing shrieking that puts the rest of Business Casual right over the top.
The last tune on the record, “Threat of Nature”, opens with a totally different feel than previous songs. Moody synth-pop throbs under the lyrics, and Muth’s skillful playing takes a more prominent place here than on any other track. The song is darker and more sinister. Bizarre blips and spacey bloops finish out the song and the album.
And that’s just fine. Coming in at just under 28 minutes, Business Casual is one gigantic musical paroxysm. Beep Beep would probably be amazing live. The band’s sound needs more space than my personal stereo could provide. The sheer number of things happening in each song and the volume at which they are performed causes almost instantaneous sensory overload on all but a few tracks. If being “too much” is Beep Beep’s modus operendi, then they’ve succeeded, but it’s dubious that many people will find that aesthetic appealing.
// Notes from the Road
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