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FOLLOW FRIDAY: Beulah on Spotify

October 22, 2009

IT is perhaps fitting that having a singer diagnosed with bi-polar disorder that San Francisco band Beulah went through multiple personalities in their short lifespan.

A combustible mix of classic songwriting and an intensely indie ethos based around the difficult relationship between founders Miles Kurosky and Bill Swan, Beulah could have been been the next big thing between getting together in 1996 and their split in 2004.

With a first album recorded largely on Maxell cassette tapes to a final dark sign off record, they constantly challenged the normal constraints of the strand of American indie in which they were bracketed (normally mentioned in the same breath as label mates and 60s revivalists Apples in Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel).

Their stand-out record, The Coast is Never Clear, displays elements of the 60s influence with flute and brass, but the frequent hand claps, cow bells, finger clicks, off kilter percussion and backing vocal ‘bap-bap-yeahs-yeahs’, makes it an album which rewards frequent listening.

Kurosky’s world weariness shoots through much their work and he is a mean writer of the tragi-comic; song titles like ‘I love John, She loves Paul’, ‘A Good Man is Easy to Kill’ and ‘Me and Jesus Don’t Talk Anymore’.

The chorus of ‘Gene Autrey’ (clip below) sums up his world view – ‘Everybody dies/ sad and lonely.’ The incongruity of the upbeat brass driven backing makes it all the more engaging.

‘A Good Man is Easy to Kill’ with its references to Kurosky’s favourite author Flannery O’Connor, is the best song in the band’s canon. I’ll let the lyric do the talking.

‘And when they cut up your lung

You said it could all breathe easy

The hole swallowed your heart

When they drill holes in your skull

And screwed that halo to your head

Did you think you could fly?

I made a prayer for you

Then prayed some more that it’d come true

Don’t know about God but I believe in you

(Chorus) So give up, give up your love

Give up, give up your love

I promise its not gonna kill ya

And I need ya, Lord I need ya

And though you haven’t got a lot to give up

A good man is easy to kill well,’

Although tensions between Kurosky and Swann, which had been prevalent in the band since its outset, continued to simmer but be managed well, in the 12 months after the release of Yoko, Beulah seemed perpetually to be on the brink of breaking through to some semblance of mainstream success. But, it never came.

Yoko, a sombre and bleak record, but no less rewarding for it, was recorded in the spectre of Kurosky’s split from his long term girlfriend and three band members’ divorces.

Having said they would split if Yoko didn’t achieve gold status for sales they gave a a free, farewell show at New York’s Battery Park at Castle Clinton on August 5, 2004. Almost a year to the day later, a DVD chronicling their last tour Autumn 2003, titled ‘A Good Band is Easy to Kill was released.

They are gone, but not forgotten at GM towers where they still rank highly on Spotify and iTunes most played.

Spotify collaborative playlist here

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