July 29, 2009
Beatbox(Italians Do it Better 2007)
Man, it took awhile to swallow my pride and earnestly accept the fact that Glass Candy were no longer the pretentious art-punk mess that released a series of occasionally great, but mostly horrid series of singles and albums. There always was something intriguing about them in theory, but the reality was that you had a fetching vocalist and interesting guitarist who listened to a few too many no-wave albums and decided to meld them with Blondie’s Parallel Lines. It was a mess, albeit one which kind of made you wonder what could be if this unlikely synthesis could be pulled off. It’s probably for the best that they decided to soldier onwards in a different direction and aim for a surprisingly successful marriage of Italo disco, Kraftwerk, new wave, John Carpenter soundtracks and and the hypnotic, but elegant repetition of Cluster. Yeah, the Cluster comparison is a stretch, but I’ll be damned if Beatbox doesn’t put me near that same head nodding zone as their more energetic orbits. On one hand, it’s just as disposable as any number of early 80s one-hit wonders, but Johnny Jewel’s instrumentation is a subtle, but unsettling take on early 80s disco that provides a perfect stage for vocalist Ida No’s blank vocals.
It’s fitting that I first heard Beatbox after listening to their labelmates Chromatics via their Night Drive album. Night Drive is an even more narcoleptic take on Italo Disco and krautrock as it relies mostly on longer instrumental passages and even sleepier vocals. What crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s between the two bands was the involvement of Johnny Jewel who has a innate knack for repetitive, hypnotic foundations for a suitably unemotional vocalist. The result is two bands adept at perfecting the synthesis of “ice queen” and a subdued, yet sensual wash of synthesizers.
Despite its occasional bouts of exuberance, Beatbox is an album suited for late night drives after the party ended long after common sense should have ended it. It conjures images of 3am sojourns down lonely highways when you fixate on the road ahead and ponder your existence. It’s a siren song to inaction, not dancing even when Jewel picks up the pace. Even then, it’s a disco in the center of a K-hole where all tones are grey and drab no matter how hard the band tries to pick up the pace. Beatbox is a danceable intertia at its most lively; a soundtrack to a party on its last legs at its most mellow.