The Beards are L.A.'s newest supergroup. Sort of. In an age where the major record companies vertically integrate their artists under the guise of artistic camaraderie (see the Lady Marmalade women, or any number of songs "featuring Gwen Stefani"), any gathering of musicians becomes an event. So why not this group of Los Angeles-based indie-rock women ? Sure, it's possible that the guy who produced their record with them (Jeff McDonald of the legendary Redd Kross) may have more recognizable indie cred. The label releasing the record (Sympathy for the Record Industry) has become notorious of late for spawning the media darlings The White Stripes. If all this matters that much, the three women that comprise The Beards have enough talent and cred of their own, and they back it up on their debut album, Funtown.
The Beards are comprised of vocalist/guitarist Kim Shattuck, of The Muffs, along with Lisa Marr (vocals/bass) and Sherri Solinger (drums/percussion), both ex of Buck and currently making up half of The Lisa Marr Experiment. Marr was also a member of Vancouver popsters' cub, another all-female three piece. The similarities between that group and this don't end there. Like much of cub's output, Funtown is full of catchy, melodic and fun pop music, though the more assured musicianship of The Beards is evident right off the top, starting with the opening tracks "This Girl" and "True Confessions". This is rollicking power-pop, sing-along type stuff that makes you want to drive around with it blasting out the windows. Same goes with "Make It in America", a huge sounding glam rocker rivaling producer Jeff McDonald's former bands' best. Shattuck's growl is still present on her "Big Dumb World" and "1000 Years", as are her guitar chops, never better than on this record.
There are some more delicate moments on Funtown as well. Marr's "Sidewalks" are full of southern-California '60s psychedelia and lush vocal harmonies, from the opening harpsichord to the conga beats as it ends. The sadness of "Her Flowers" is punctuated by harmonies by L.A. mainstay Anna Waronker (of That Dog fame). In fact, there is a lot of California throughout this disc, whether in tone, lyric, or personnel. Marr wrote a song not long after leaving Vancouver for Los Angeles called "In California", where she considered herself "Another fool playing songs/That don't matter/For people who chatter/Endlessly". She obviously is a lot more comfortable in her surroundings, not to mention her own skin. Her songs make up the majority of the record, and she seems to have a more confidence in her singing and writing.
In addition to eleven solid tracks, Funtown is also an enhanced CD. Most CDs that have this feature end up being no more than a little video footage, and maybe a link to a website. What The Beards offer surpasses anything that came before it, by including videos for every single song on the record. From linear "storyline" type videos to more arty, esoteric visuals, each were produced exclusively for this disc. Rarely do the majors offer such an extra on their releases; it is unheard of on an indie release. Even though this record was made as a side project, it's clear the band expended a lot of effort and had a lot of fun along the way in putting this together. It seems fitting that the last song on the record is a cover of Frank Black's "Thalassocracy" (from his Teenager of the Year album), which includes the lyrics "I want to sing for you/And make your head go pop". It's a sentiment that runs through the record and completes its' task. There's nothing heavy about it, it just wants you to sit back and enjoy. Funtown is a great place to visit.