Review: ‘Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are’ by Beauty Pill
“I want more life, fucker…” Chad Clark sings in his air-gasping snarl on “Drapetomania,” the opening track of Beauty Pill’s long-awaited album, Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are. The lyrics are lifted from a line delivered with a scathing cadence by Rutger Hauer’s character Roy Batty in the film Blade Runner. In the film, Batty is aware that he will die before his time, so he tracks down and confronts his creator, berating him with these lines. The possible early end to life is a subject which Clark has faced for many years. In the fall of 2007, Clark was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, a rare condition in which a virus invades and inflames the heart. A few months after his diagnosis, Clark underwent lifesaving open heart surgery and spent the next two years recovering and privately making music.
In mid-2011, Beauty Pill was commissioned to record what would become Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are at Artisphere’s Black Box Theatre. The project, known as the “Immersive Ideal,” is broken down into three phases. The first phase was the recording of the album itself. For over two weeks, Artisphere visitors could watch the band’s recording process from behind panes of glass. The second part of the exhibition happened six months later, when Dolby-mixed tracks of the album were played in surround sound, making every musical nuance clearly heard. The third and final phase will happen in late April and early May, as the band retakes the stage where the album was recorded in order to play three live shows, their first in seven years.
So what does Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are, a record nearly five years in the making, sound like? It sounds like life, only larger. There are no broad strokes here, yet rather an entire pallet of sounds both organic and electronic, due not only to Clark’s leading man status as bandleader coupled with his expertise as a producer, but also to Basla Andolun, Jean Cook, Drew Doucette, Devin Ocampo, and Abram Goodrich, the five multi-instrumentalists who perform on the album. Together, they helped to give the album its life on songs like the sweeping and nearly seven-minute long “Ann the Word.” The song originally appeared as a demo on the band’s Myspace page in 2006. “Ann the Word” is a gorgeous reflection of what music can be. Intertwining soft strokes of acoustic guitar, piano and strings with ham-radio static feedback, it ambles along as though it is being carried by the wind. This blending of the organic with the synthetic shows up with a darker and different effectiveness on “Ain’t a Jury in the World Gon Convict You Baby,” which bounces from dark electric guitar riffs and atmospheric beats, to cadences of symphonic strings, and then back again.
As Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are moves on, the songs slowly morph into forms, each of which are ever-more experimental than the preceding ones. Take the newspaper headline-titled “Dog With Rabbit in Mouth, Unharmed,” which opens with peaceful, tribal drum beats and Spanish-style guitar ripples. With well-thought-out precision, it slowly transforms over time into ripples of electronic samples that blend in and act as an effortless segue into the light, airy, and rather danceable beats of “For Pretend,” which is mirrored by the synth and drum stomp-heavy beats on “When Cornered.”
The most experimental and profoundly wonderful song is saved for last. “Ann the Word (Lungfish Cover)” should not be confused by the earlier “Ann the Word,” the title of which Clark borrowed from the original song by Baltimore art-punkers Lungfish. At seven minutes, the song begins with dark trap-style beats, infused with hyper bits of incoherent noise over which Clark eerily sings “This is the last song I sung.” The song trudges along, loud and long, before turning on a dime to end on a mystic note, with the harsh beats falling away and replaced by slow, sweet synth-pop melodies and the soft and soothing sound of Cook repeating “The world vanished in a gentle breeze,” like a mantra.
In the aftermath of Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are, the listener is left changed in much the same way one feels after exiting an eye-opening film, or after reading the final lines of a long and complicated novel. With Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are, Beauty Pill has accomplished something much greater than fulfilling their duties as artists-in-residence. They’ve created a living work, centered on a theme that no one can ignore; the fear of death. Clark and company mask nothing here, and their musical meanderings and elaborate sound combos showcase their best record to-date. By describing things as they are, Beauty Pill speaks the truth.
Listen to Beauty Pill’s new album via SoundCloud.