Reverend Beat-Man & The Underground
It’s A Matter Of Time – The Complete PALP Session LP
(Voodoo Rhythm Records)
In this era of digital production, rare is the album which feels and sounds dirty. Now, I don’t mean “dirty” in the sense that it was recorded poorly or the sound quality is poor, I mean the music feels dirty in that, after listening, a record leaves listeners feeling so unclean that listeners don’t just feel like they need to take a shower – after listening, they’ll feel like they need to go to confession. After listening to It’s A Matter Of Time – The Complete PALP Session LP, those who have run front-to-back with the album may feel that way exactly – and justifiably. To be clear, no moment on It’s A Matter Of Time feels dark or particularly dangerous – it just feels dirty; it gets down and dirty, it revels in thoughts and statements which are nasty, different aspects of the presentation feel greasy or otherwise bedraggled and, in the end, listeners may be left feeling cheap and used – but certainly in a good way as they walk away from the album experience.
But that’s all, as stated, something which can only happen as the end of the album experience. In order to get there, you need to begin at the beginning.
From note one, listeners will not have to guess – they’re know what they’re in for, from the moment needle catches groove and “I Want To Fuck You Baby” opens the A-side of the album. There, singer/guitarist Beat-Man Zeller, guitarist Benjamin Glaus, keyboardist Milan Slick and drummer Beatrice Graf lay everything squarely on the line with an instrumental performance that sounds like Elvis Costello and The Attractions might, after a healthy round or huffing glue; it’s not sloppy really, it just feels unclean. The keyboards wheeze and there is precisely no shine on the guitars at all. Some readers who have yet to hear the record might be put off by that description of the sound – like it might be of poor sound quality, but that would be incorrect. Yes, it’s dirty – but it’s also very provocative and compelling.
As unlikely as it might seem, that compelling, provocative bent endures past the end of “I Want To Fuck You Baby.” As soon as “Slave To The Phone” starts, in fact, it picks up just where its predecessor left off; with a slightly more math-y, angular performance in place, Beat-Man bemoans the encroachment of technology into every facet of everyday life (as exemplified by lines like, “Text message problems/ Slow wi-fi/ Too many facebook friends/ Spam emails and a hard disk freeze – argh!”) before trying to dance around organized religion with “Jesus Christ Twist” (which doesn’t quite make it to “danceable” and is twice as long as the cut which preceded it), getting slightly more aggressive with “Shut Up” and “Mongolian Talks To Alien” and then switching things up with the far more ominous-feeling title track. There, Beat-Man and his band get genuinely terrifying as the song slows, and more noir-ish coloring is employed.
Really, how the album’s title track closes the A-side of It’s A Matter Of Time would have been a great way to end the whole album. It offers a genuinely classic feel to the proceedings, and the dimly lit aesthetic would have made for a satisfying conclusion. Instead though, listeners get more goodness with the B-side – which proves to be another fantastic which nicely mirrors its counterpart.
The B-side opens by finding a startlingly solid way to cross a joyful desire to celebrate tactless behavior (similar to the way that NOFX does it, at their best) with more of The Underground’s signature “Attractions and glue” styling in “Get Down On Me,” before completely changing their own drive and getting very Ween-y with “Banned From The Internet.” There, The Underground presents a gear that no one could possibly have assumed the band had as they assemble something which feels like golden country greatness and bemoan a fate on par with death (getting banned on social media for posting photos). Of course, the song is design to get as many laughs as it can, but it also betrays a startlingly high level of musicianship which just doesn’t appear anywhere else on the album. It’s so good, in fact, that listeners will actually bemoan the song’s end, after just two minutes, and quietly hope for something they might find that’s comparable to it later in the side’s running.
Of course, like most good bait, more countrified silliness like “Banned From The Internet” does not appear anywhere else on the B-side of It’s A Matter Of Time, but that spark does ignite more excitement. Immediately thereafter, “Lass uns liebe machen” completely changes the movement of the side by setting the song up on a droning platform of low-end and dumping a tonne of reverb on the band’s guitars as well as Beat-Man’s vocals – which decry something in a different language from the rest of the album and so amount to a delightful curiosity, as a result. After that, the band returns to the darkened doldrums which characterized “It’s A Matter Of Time” for the aptly-entitled lovelorn ballad, “Back In Hell.” On the right day, hearing the growling tale of a man who found his girl cheating and shot her down like a dog – all delivered with Beat-Man’s own growling vocal tone – can make eyes roll or smiles crack even the stoniest faces but, on the wrong day, the song can just test patience and play for an awfully long less-than-three-minutes. Frustratingly too, the side closes on the exact same tip as Beat-Man drags himself along concrete through the FOUR FUCKING MINUTES it takes to play through “You’re On Top.” Now, it could be argued that the styling employed to make it through “You’re On Top” betrays a desire to come close to being a European answer to Tom Waits – but the problem with that logic is that, when Waits growls, the sound is compelling, while it fails to really get much traction here and that “You’re On Top” is where the album ends, the song’s title feels like a complete misnomer.
As weakly as the B-side proves to play, that is not to say It’s A Matter Of Time is beyond redemption – in fact, there is a fury on the A-side in particular which is fantastic and infectious. Because of that, this critic argues that The Underground has embarked on a learning curve; they’re finding out what works for them, and what doesn’t. Yes, there are points in the running which require patience, but those moments in the running when the album works are the ones which more than pay for the moments which don’t. Here’s hoping that Beat-Man & The Underground return with another offering soon, with a better focus. There’s no question that the band has promise and is showing some of it here, they just need to iron out a few more creases. [Bill Adams]
It’s A Matter Of Time – The Complete PALP Session – [CD review]
It’s A Matter Of Time – The Complete PALP Session LP is out now. Buy it here, direct from Voodoo Rhythm Records.