Beulah frontman Miles Kurosky is a happy hipster when The Badger Herald catches up with him via telephone from his hotel room in Boston, Mass.
“The club overpaid us by a bit last night,” the San Francisco resident chirps in a pre-caffeinated morning rasp.
After discussing his recent concerns about an upcoming European tour and the likelihood of postponement, Kurosky’s mood shifts–not really to the negative side, even though Kurosky is known for voicing his opinions freely (calling the King of Pop “pure shit”) and reverting to physical action when truly incensed (“Miles threatened to hit me over the head with a mic stand. This is going to be a long record,” keyboardist Bill Evans writes in a studio journal). The singer’s tone is truly introspective, eschewing the canned response that makes interviewing pure drudgery at times. But that’s the deal with Beulah’s music–an intelligent balance between pretty and putrid, beautiful and bellicose, the good and the bad.
Following up the group’s 1999 critical gem When Your Heartstrings Break, an album that includes18 guest musicians jamming on a mess of drunken trombones, analog keys and tympanis, to name a few, The Coast is Never Clear still features a diverse range of instruments, but in a pared-down kind of way.
“To save money on this record, we rented a number of instruments and played them ourselves,” Kurosky says between a call from his girlfriend and room service.
Flares of sardonic lyricism cozy up with listeners on an album that calls to mind the So-Cal pop meanderings of the Beach Boys, coupled with the masked witticism of fellow Elephant 6 mainstays Apples in Stereo and Neutral Milk Hotel.
The album opens with “Hello Resolven,” a track that steps into an eleven-year-old’s first piano recital with a pared-down key arrangement and Kurosky’s truly puzzling refrain, “Hello resolven, hello to you all/ Kill off the king, kill off the queen/ Everybody laugh, everybody scream, it’s over.” In this prologue to the lo-fi goodness ahead, Beulah’s trademark sound rings clear. The lyrics bite you in the ass, clearly an effect of the strikingly hypnotic instrumentation applied by Evans’ bare-bones aesthetics.
On “Gene Autry,” stringy guitar slides into Kurosky’s pitch-perfect croon with a dash of tympani and tubular bells for good measure. This truly beautiful m?lange of common and not-so-common sounds is formidably capped with a conquistador’s gorgeous trumpet solo. The obvious single off the record, this cut plays out like a visitor’s brochure for the group’s dazzling sound–an easy sell for those tunnel-visioned skeptics demanding guitars, guitars, guitars. Put it to rest, guys; Beulah rocks hard with bells and whistles.
Beginning with more of the same hollow-bodied twang that makes one want to jump in an auto to just drive somewhere, “Popular Mechanics for Lovers” once again teeters the line between pretty little pop number and cynical ode to thrashing ventricles. “Just because he love you too/ He wouldn’t ever take a bullet for you/ Don’t believe a word he says/ He could never cut his heart out for you,” the song cants.
It is obvious through the top-to-bottom pleasure of The Coast is Never Clear that Beulah is coming into their own, leaving the Elephant 6 moniker for their fans to contemplate. “The kids in chat rooms can tell you more about Elephant 6. It’s just a label; we are our own band.” Hey, Miles, by the way, keep pissing in your own oatmeal–makes for lovely songsmanship.