Sunday, May 17, 2009

Beat Happening - You Turn Me On (1992)

It's not kiwi, but it's one of my favorites. Hearing someone slight this record recently was like hearing an attack on an old friend.

Bathed in ambient warmth, You Turn Me On is classic Beat Happening—pure, minimalist fury, driving percussion, and laconic drone—but in panoramic Technicolor. Draping their distinctly adult tales of lust, love, and rejection in the gauzy language of adolescence, the innocence of Beat Happening’s approach is belied by the bittersweet knowledge that such blissful idyll is fleeting. The childlike retreat to the comforting and the familiar is a futile pursuit, but it is often the only language that is available to us. Nakedly emotional and rooted in the present, You Turn Me On is Beat Happening’s most honest record. From the opening strains of “Tiger Trap” to the closing chimes of “Bury the Hammer,” the album is an extraordinary coda to a career of conceptual and lyrical delights. Though its predecessors’ rinky-dink, schoolyard charms were a key aspect of Beat Happening’s sound, the more polished affair of You Turn Me On does not lessen the impact of its songs but rather confirms what had always been clear: in terms of lyrical and melodic prowess, Beat Happening was a cut above the like-minded crop of awkward, cardigan-clad bands that appeared in their wake. The limitations of their sound were never reflected in the strength of their material. On You Turn Me On, the digital effects suit the songs. It is difficult to imagine the lullaby drone of “Godsend” without the sweetly lilting guitar harmonies that blend and swoon together in a transcendent evocation of idealized love. Heather represented the pulsing, human heart at the center of Beat Happening, offering a sweet contrast to Calvin’s guttural food-sex-death metaphors and B-movie diversions, and ”Godsend” is the album’s centerpiece. You Turn Me On is full of such moments, a beautiful and resigned farewell from one of the era’s greatest bands. Heather, Calvin, and Bret: thank you. - Ariel


Anonymous said...

Really fantastic record.
It don't have to be a KIWI-album.
Greetings Jay

Bob Jones said...

Thanks to the resources made available by this blog, I have been able to further ‘review’ this Beat Happening offering. Tidings and good wishes, esteemed author.
However, this particular evolution of their sound still makes me uneasy. The addition of overdubs and other such studio fanciness seems to only highlight the band’s inherent amusical tendencies. Why would a band founded on the concept that individual musical skills are not necessary to a great band ever try to become more complicated? Beat Happening’s musical magic happens in a tripartite sonic synergy – who plays the overdubbed parts when the band plays live? Does their onstage synergy diminish with this nameless faceless fourth voice? Can these songs even be played live by Beat Happening? Yes, yes, the songs are good, yes, yes, they do maintain that rhythmic sheen of simplicity. But are these even Beat Happening songs?

Peter said...

Just saw Calvin last night with his new combo The Hive Dwellers. Was real nice. All acoustic and quiet. In fact he didn't even use a mic but with that voice of his you know he doesn't even need one.

Anonymous said...

dear bob, are you amish?

it was great to hear them experiment with more overdubs. they were still untamed..stuart moxham did a great job with this.. you can't do the same formula over & over & over...

one of the greatest bands of all time & still underrated.

live they were savage. the most punk thing i ever witnessed.

richard brain

Bob Jones said...

Dear Dick Brain,

Glad to find someone who can recognize the verbal stylings of the Mennonite peoples.

I stand by my comments. I find the Mennonite lifestyle to be very 'punk', and do not enjoy my credibility being questioned.

Robert J. Jones Jr.

ROOKSBY said...

I'd forgotten how good this LP is, many thanks for the reminder... x

Anonymous said...


CumFac said...

link exchange with me:

Los Angeles News Journal said...

i love the beat happening and K

Anonymous said...

re overdubbing - Brian Eno demonstrated in the seventies that "musical competence" and "building things in a recording studio" are two entirely independent phenomena. Any 10-year-old with access to a computing device can overdub. And my understanding of their performance aesthetic is that there is no particular reason to get attached to a studio arrangement when playing a song live - they just aren't that precious.