Plumbiferous Media

Boy from Black Mountain - Beat Circus

Oct 1st 2009
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Boy from Black Mountain - Beat CircusBeat Circus
Boy from Black Mountain
Score: 83








Beat Cir­cus, found­ed by Bri­an Car­pen­ter in 2002, began as a high­ly exper­i­men­tal group focused most­ly on instru­men­tal music, with influ­ences from every­thing between rock and cir­cus music. Between their first and sec­ond albums, Beat Cir­cus trans­formed sig­nif­i­cant­ly, tak­ing on new aspects of coun­try and South­ern rock, and increas­ing the promi­nence of Carpenter’s vocals. Their third and newest album, Boy from Black Moun­tain, com­pletes this trans­for­ma­tion from Beat Circus’s begin­ning as strange­ly col­or­ful music like the “Con­tor­tion­ist Tan­go” (from their first album, Ringleader’s Revolt) to the deep­er, more rem­i­nis­cent “Judge­ment Day” and “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” on their newest effort. It’s cer­tain­ly a inter­est­ing change, and Boy from Black Moun­tain is all the more com­pelling for it.

Boy from Black Moun­tain con­tains an intrigu­ing mix of instru­men­tals. Begin­ning with the vivid intro to “The Feb­ru­ary Train,” the album runs through var­i­ous instru­men­tal styles, from the blue­grassy stream run­ning through “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” to the folk rock back­ground of “Judg­ment Day” (which includes sev­er­al elec­tric strains as a sort of con­trast to the rest of the track). Some tracks, such as “As I Lay Dying,” evoke the sound of a square dance with the incred­i­ble amount of ener­gy they con­tain. Oth­ers, such as “Sat­urn Song,” are some­what more sub­dued, but remain most­ly inter­est­ing through the use of a well-orches­trat­ed instru­men­tal back­ing. Through­out Boy from Black Moun­tain, no mat­ter the instru­men­tal lean­ing of any spe­cif­ic track, the instru­men­tal exper­tise of Beat Cir­cus shines through bril­liant­ly - with par­tic­u­lar cred­it to an excel­lent vio­lin, cour­tesy of Paran Amiri­nazari.

Fol­low­ing a slight­ly long (though cer­tain­ly diverse) instru­men­tal intro, Bri­an Carpenter’s rich vocals enter Boy from Black Moun­tain. From this ear­ly stage of the album, the down-home influ­ence on Carpenter’s voice is clear - per­haps a bit of coun­try or blue­grass, or some­thing between the two. Car­pen­ter lends the charis­ma of these musi­cal styles to Beat Circus’s music, his voice serv­ing as a pow­er­ful com­pan­ion to the con­stant­ly active instru­men­tals, made even stronger by well-placed back­ground vocal­ists. Occa­sion­al rough­ness creeps into Carpenter’s voice (as on “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”), help­ing to devel­op Beat Circus’s thor­ough­ly tra­di­tion­al styling. How­ev­er, from time to time through­out Boy from Black Moun­tain, the vocal line is swal­lowed up by the instru­men­tals, pre­vent­ing the music from ben­e­fit­ing as great­ly as it could from this inte­gral (and pow­er­ful) ele­ment.

Beat Cir­cus was ini­tial­ly formed as an entire­ly instru­men­tal ensem­ble, but lat­er devel­oped their sound through the addi­tion of vocals, allow­ing Carpenter’s grav­el­ly vocals to gain well-deserved promi­nence among the music. Boy from Black Moun­tain is large­ly nar­ra­tive, com­posed of sto­ries told gruffly by Car­pen­ter. In the sec­ond track “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” which seems to be named after a short sto­ry by Flan­nery O’Connor, Car­pen­ter intones: “Dad­dy had a red pick­up / Loaded up the water­mel­ons / And drove out to old Iron Moun­tain / Three hun­dred six­ty-five miles to home - Bill Road / Every Sun­day Mom­ma said a prayer for the old man in the rock­ing chair / Called out to me and my broth­er / She said ‘Remem­ber the life you save may be your own.’” Car­pen­ter tells tales in this vein through­out Boy from Black Moun­tain, cre­at­ing a sense of won­der while nev­er leav­ing the realm of real­i­ty.

Boy from Black Moun­tain is most­ly excel­lent, but suf­fers from slight issues in mix­ing. In some cas­es, cer­tain sec­tions, espe­cial­ly vocals, are more sub­dued than they real­ly ought to be, lead­ing to slight­ly messy tracks as back­ing instru­men­tals take cen­ter stage. For the most part, how­ev­er, Beat Cir­cus has done a good job com­bin­ing the quite var­ied parts of their music so that they rarely clash - and are quite often very reward­ing.

Beat Cir­cus has done many things right with Boy from Black Moun­tain. Com­bin­ing engag­ing vocals, enter­tain­ing vocals and inter­est­ing instru­men­tals, the band has cre­at­ed a large­ly laud­able album. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, occa­sion­al mis­steps with mix­ing pre­vent the album from being quite per­fect. How­ev­er, for the most part Boy from Black Moun­tain is a well-com­posed, inspired (and extreme­ly styl­ized) album - and an excel­lent third release from Beat Cir­cus.


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