March 30, 2005

Beauty Pill, The Unsustainable Lifestyle

Life's pretty cheap. This record is only $10 PPD from Dischord.

The Unsustainable Lifestyle is the first full-length album from Beauty Pill (no "the", the band cautions). A cursory glance at the internet reveals that much if not all of the obvious starting points for a review of this band have been taken. I am therefore probably treading over well-worn ground with the following:

It is difficult not to feel a little bit busted on as a music fan, expressing admiration for a record the opening salvo of which is "There's a band on stage tonight and every note they play turns its back to you, but still you want to add them to the sad list of things you've said yes to. And they don't want to help save your life, they just want to distract you for a while." This line really epitomizes the entire record: drenched in bitterness and sarcasm and forming an attack on the listener.

On this release, as well as their debut The Cigarette Girl from the Future EP, the controlling mood is one of resigned disappointment merged with a level of detached disgust, modulating into straight-ahead anger only on the Mr. Rogers-sampling "Won't You Be Mine". It's doubtful, though, that Beauty Pill mean to identify themselves with the group they sing about - jumping all the way ahead, the last lyric on the entire album: "Terrible things, they are gonna happen. This record's over, so why not go outside and stop them?" In between the former and the latter quotes is a quick musical digest of a couple of the terrible things you might want to stop.

Essentially this is a political album in a way just as forceful but more insidious as the standard crust-punk shoutfest. Beauty Pill's favorite lyrical-rhetorical technique is to point up the listener's responsibility for a negative situation; that opening line is one example, but a more effective one is the third track, "The Mule on the Plane", which implicates the American cocaine user in the oppression of South American drug smugglers. Quite a few of the songs take an updated tack on the tried-and-true speak-truth-to-power technique by speaking truth to the sources of that power.

Musically there is a clear relationship between Beauty Pill and Smart Went Crazy, the previous project of singer-guitarist Chad Clark, as well as between fellow SWC alums Faraquet and Medications. Whereas Faraquet and Medications go in for mathematical guitar heroics and unusual time signatures and Smart Went Crazy relied on forward musicianship in its own way, Beauty Pill is, while arguably less "ambitious" than those other bands, possibly more listenable as well; The Unsustainable Lifestyle is more of a rock album, relying more on conventional rock instrumentation and Dischord tone qualities (e.g. "Such Large Portions!"). One gets the sense that this album could have been recorded ten years ago as a massive guitar rave-up, but fate dictated that it came out as a prettier, more subdued affair. The other bands that spring most readily to mind by way of comparison are Unwound, Fugazi, and Sleater-Kinney.

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