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  Bethany Curve  
  Kitchen Whore  
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I have been listening to Bethany Curve for several years now. In fact, I have reviewed two of their previous albums, 1998's Gold and 2001's You Brought Us Here, both of which were good albums that seemed to tread a border between goth and shoegazer.

Flaxen is their fifth album (although i am loathe to call a release of merely 26 minutes an "album"), and I think it might be the best thing they have released to date. I mean that as a serious compliment, coming from somebody who really liked their album Gold. Still, both Gold and You Brought Us Here had a certain sameness to them, as if in each of the intervening three years, the band had not really grown or added to their sound. That was somewhat disappointing, but really, both of those albums were fine.

Flaxen, on the other hand, is an album produced by a band that has changed and matured in the three years since their previous release. In music, maturity tends to mean "playing slowly" and, indeed, this is a slower-paced release than their previous ones. It is also, i have found, far more complex, and richly rewarding.

Bethany Curve have always played their guitars through loads of effects pedals, creating a wall of distorted sound. All good and well, but even though i can listen to that sort of thing all day, i know that other people get bored with it. In contrast, the guitars here seem fuller, more complete, and more experimental. Part of it is the lineup changes the band has been through. Basically, vocalist/guitarist Richard Millang and drummer David MacWha are the only common elements across all of their albums. Since You Brought Us Here the band has lost long-standing guitarist Ray Lake and added both a new guitarist, Nathan Guevara, and an actual bassist (previously they were a three guitar band) by the name of Daved Lockhart. I think that this explains the increased depth of their sound.

Another change is in the drumming of David MacWha. Although he is the only drummer they have ever had, his work on this disc sounds very different. It is subtle and understated, but not muted or insignificant. It really sounds to me like Mr. MacWha has spent some time studying the drumming techniques of the West Coast Cool Jazz movement of the 60's. Perhaps he has, or perhaps it is just a sonic coincidence. Either way i find that i really enjoy his drum work on this album.

But enough overall comments. Let me examine each of the six songs on Flaxen.

The album starts out with a light trill of echoed guitar and MacWha tapping the high-hat calmly. The song is called Automatic and, after a minute or so, Millang's voice comes in, buried in the mix and only half-heard. This part of the song is very Slowdive-ish. However, after another three minutes, the music fades out fully, and the song is reborn more forcefully with insistent drumming and loud guitar echo. Disaffected (still distant, but clearer now) vocals reminiscent of early Chameleons come in. This is very nice, but i am unclear as to why this is "the same song". It might be the same track number, but it seems like there are two entirely different songs here. Whatever.

Automatic fades into Jettison, which features e-bowed guitar and a general guitar haze that moves along very slowly. This is a nice little poppy tune, with a toe-tapping drumbeat carrying it along it's languid pace.

Up next is Omaha Beach, which is a short interlude of droning ambience. It's kind of eerie, but mostly just pleasant. Bethany Curve do this sort of ambient music very well for a bunch of guys with guitars. Normally i would expect this type of stuff to be produced by some guy with a laptop. So this difference makes the tune interesting and well done.

The next tune is more energetic. Ironically it is called Sleep, and it features another wonderfully toe-tapping rhythm with lovely guitar work that just chimes and echoes. The guitarwork just builds and builds, and MacWha plays his cool jazziest rhythms. Also, Lockhart's basswork really shines here. I think this is my favorite tune on the disc.

The next track, The Means, comes in with fuzzy overdriven guitar and strong vocals. This song, in all honesty, sounds like a lost Verve classic, and i do not use that comparison lightly. It really reminds me of A Storm In Heaven. This is not to say that it is derivative in any way, but rather i simply mean that the way the guitars grind and fuzz, combined with the half-heard vocals, calls to mind that classic album. However, when the chorus hits, and Millang and Guevara stomp on their overdrive pedals, the song becomes a transcendent wall of noise. Every time i listen to this one, i stop whatever i am doing in order to fully listen to the chorus, and i think "I bet this song utterly rules in concert".

After the guitar fury, it is back to an instrumental with Utah Beach. This is a bit of dark ambience to end the album on a moody note. However, this time MacWha's drumming has been looped and slightly scuffed. Eventually, this is joined by a trilling guitar riff, and then the song and the album just fades out...

...And i am left wanting more, which is a good thing for an album to do. Bethany Curve manage to pack a lot of depth into a mere 26 minutes, and i am quite impressed. Their sound has grown and become much deeper since i last heard from them. Now i am really looking forward to their next release. Unfortunately, on their schedule that will be in 2006 or 2007.

Still, this is a masterful release, and fans of distorted guitar work, shoegazing, dreampop, and/or atmospheric music need to track down a copy of this. Really.

Related Links:

Gold by Bethany Curve
You Brought Us Here by Bethany Curve


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