Ah, college. Who of us in their thirties doesn’t pine for those four years when everything was so important, when you could be fucked up all the time and wear it as a badge of honor? Loyal readers of this column know that when it comes to the local music scene, college is the best of times and the worst of times. How many bands have formed from dorm-room allegiances? How many promising young Reindeer Rock-Off veterans found their bands torn asunder by matriculation? Too many, surely.
BEAM ME UP: Jeff Beam.
In this week’s edition of what I learned between classes, we feature Jeff Beam, frontman for Specter (Reindeer Rock-Off veterans), who’s gone off to college (in this case, USM — clearly other Specterites went farther afield) and written himself 13 tracks that just demanded a solo album, Mind the Gap. As you might expect, they’re a little rough around the edges, somewhat self-indulgent, and feature lots of pining for the girlfriend left behind, but Beam has an ear for melody, plays a mean guitar, and pays a decent tribute to the progenitors of pop and psychedelic rock.
First, I’ll address the self-indulgent bits: I’m not really that down with the Brechtian practice of including clips of studio banter on CDs. Sure, once in a while you get a cool count-off or an “I’ve got blisters on my fingers” bit of insight, but in general the clips — like, say, Beam finishing “The Fly” and announcing “I think that’s an okay tune” — are just reminders of the process music fans would mostly rather not think about. Like not wanting to wonder about what goes into a Fenway Frank.
Do we want to know how much Britney’s vocals are bent in the studio? No. Do we want, following an eight-minute, Doors-riffing, Robert Johnson-referencing tune, to be alerted to the fact that even the guy that wrote it isn’t all that impressed? Also no. Mixing and mastering engineers out there: Take it upon yourselves to advise clients against this tactic.
Secondly, the rough around the edges: The Bluepen Studios recording by Naythen Wilson — also the only other musician who lends his talents to the disc, Beam playing everything else — employs a lot of playing around with the right and left channels and experimentation with vocal effects and guitar tones. Sometimes, this produces a really nice moment, as with the bridge that features dueling guitar solos in the left and right channels, close to each other, but significantly different in tone, in the opening “That’s No Ordinary Kaleidoscope.” Other times, it just feels clumsy, as with the distorted and low-mixed vocals of “Kaleidoscope,” which make it nearly impossible to make out any lyrics. These experiments gone awry are relatively few, but they leave an impression.