“It is clear with this album that Jeff Beam is not one to be locked in any box.”
[By Rachel McFarland]
Sometimes listening to music can be a passive experience – it plays in the background, not really being heard or actually listened to. And sometimes, listening to music becomes an activity that keeps you guessing what’s coming next with every twist and turn, taking you on a ride to the edge and demanding your attention.
With the release of Be Your Own Mirror by Jeff Beam, listeners better buckle up. Just when you think you know where things are going with this psych-pop influenced album, he reminds us that this is his show- and we’re just along for the ride. With a lulling, swaying start, listeners get pulled in with soft promises of a chill music listening experience, but the album instead picks up steam the whole way through like a roller coaster gearing up for the big hill, eventually heading into a psychedelic electro-pop space ride that leaves the listener with an out-of-body “what just happened?” sensation.
It’s quite a ride; starting off with the lumbering “Whispering Poison in his Ear”, then segueing into picked-up tempos on tracks like “Hospital Patience” and “Part One”. It then veers off onto “Part Two” with it’s back and forth guitar and drums that create a calmer instrumental interlude. This continues with “Now”, a song that somehow combines two completely different tones- a bluesy tone with a slower psychedelic pop tone- yet makes it work. Distortions are introduced on “Existentially Speaking” picking things up a bit, gearing us up for what comes next.
What comes next is “Congratulations on Your Latest Achievement”- probably the best microcosm of the album- this track manages to cull every influence and style of the album and spin it into one piece- from the folky –yet- fast acoustic guitar and harmonica sounds that kick the song off, into the groovy bass lines and trippy electronic distortions, to the layered vocals that pick up well into the track, it’s a mini-ride within the ride of the album.
Jeff’s psych-pop influences are for the most part clear, but there’s also a tapestry of sounds that don’t seem to fit into the neat little box we can label as his influences, adding to the mystery ride feel. What makes the ride unique is also what’s familiar about it. Every listener may hear different influences or familiar tones all throughout. The sheer diversity of artists, bands, songs and albums that could easily be influences for Jeff stream in and out of consciousness while listening. “Whispering Poison in his Ear” conjures up The Beatles’ “Sun King”, while “Destroy All Solutions” brings on “The End” from Abbey Road – fittingly, the first and last songs on this album both evoking Abbey Road. There’s also a bit of “The End” by The Doors in “Part Two”, while his soft tinged Elliot Smith-style vocals add to the complexity.
It’s all familiar, yet somehow new in every way. It is clear with this album that Jeff Beam is not one to be locked in any box- each track is completely different and yields to various influences and genres, yet it somehow remains a cohesive unit, with an almost concept album feel to it. This is fitting given the era from which he seems to draw influence, and also demands the listener’s attention.
Sometimes listening can be a passive experience- but listening to Be Your Own Mirror is an entertaining trip, with varying tempos, a wide array of styles and a diverse set of influences. Just bring your seatbelt.
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