September 26, 2003

Beauty Pill "You Are Right To Be Afraid"

You can't rush genius. Sometimes, a brilliant mind needs solitude and a hands-off policy, so that the boy or girl wonder can produce their next masterpiece. Of course, such a policy is a very risky one to take; isolation can often go to the head of the isolated, leaving them convinced of their own brilliance without having the vision to see the flaws and failings of their masterpiece. Let's not get into the question of mental health, either.

I'm not worried about the mental state of Beauty Pill's leader, Chad Clark, but it has indeed been too long since he last released a record--or a full length. His previous band, Smart Went Crazy, released perhaps one of the best albums of the 1990s, Con Art. Mixing profound political and poetic statements with challenging and interesting music, Con Art should have been the rocket that sent Clark and company into wider acclaim. It didn't happen; the band imploded on tour, with members regrouping as the merely OK math-rock band Faraquet. Clark went on to work on his own project, Beauty Pill. Four years after Con Art appeared, he issued the good but way too brief Cigarette Girl of the Future, which hinted at greater things, but left the listener wanting more.

To be fair, Clark has since become a studio wizard of much acclaim, and it's probably his busy schedule as an in-demand producer that has delayed Beauty Pill's progression and growth. Though the list of bands he's worked with is too long to go into here, just listen to the Dismemberment Plan records for a taste of his magic, and bands such as Q and Not U and The Caribbean also owe a thing or two to Clark's magical touch. It's because of his track record as a musician and the results of his own studio experimentation that makes any new Chad Clark project welcome here at Mundane Sounds, and the minute I saw You Are Right To Be Afraid, it became mine.

I knew things were going to be interesting when I put the CD in and the 'found sound' piece "The Ballad of Leron and Lele" came on. It's a brief snippet of a Caribbean children's record, about a young boy, Leron, who shows off for his girlfriend, and in his machismo, he attempts to show off to her, by climbing up a tree to get her a papaya. "When he got to the topmost branch, it broke. Tsk tsk, too bad, well, Lele just looked for somebody else," the tape says, as it slows down in speed. Gee, Chad, I wonder what that meant? A commentary? A scathing statement towards some unknown individual? It's none of our business, really, but this brief snippet that reassured me that Clark has not lost it. In fact, I think it's that little bit of weirdness that leads me to think that, if anything, Clark has found it.

The rest of the EP is brief, but it cuts to the point. "Copyists" is a slow ballad that finds vocal interchange between Clark and Basla Andolsun and Rachel Burke. It's a device Clark has used in the past--the contrast of male and female. "You Are Right To Be Afraid" is the real shocker here; it's a straight-up punk rock number, relentless in delivery, and over quite quickly. Clark as hardcore hero? Who knew? He does it quite well, too--even if the vocals are kind of muffled. "Quote Devout Unquote" is a throwback to the Smart Went Crazy era; again with female vocals, and though it's nice, it's the weakest of the lot. Plus, it just seems as if Clark should be singing it, too.

The best song on You Are Right To Be Afraid is the closing "You, Yes You." When he sings "You remind me of the Jackson 5, Back when Michael Jackson was still alive/Skyscraping afro in the bloom of youth/And being insulated from the truth/You remind me of everything good," it's revelatory. Not only is Clark back, he's only just beginning. Throw in some tape manipulation towards the end, and the song's one of the most powerful and affecting numbers--and possibly one of Clark's best compositions. True, it's a brief little song, with just Clark on guita and some interesting little effects, but it's a mindblower. It certainly makes up for two years of silence!

You Are Right To Be Afraid will leave you with a sense of hope and anticipation for their upcoming full-length record.Yes, that's right, apparently Beauty Pill will release their debut album this fall. You are right to be excited, my friend. I know I am.

--Joseph Kyle

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