Here’s a show we’re all very excited about; Charlottesville’s art-power-pop supergroup Borrowed Beams of Light and Roanoke’s very own powerhouse duo Eternal Summers!
Borrowed Beams are releasing their first full-length album, Stellar Hoax, at the show tonight. It’s being co-released by two local labels each run by swell dudes: Blair Amberly’s SpeakerTree Records (whose only previous release was the Cloud Nothings debut, which you may recall was awesome) and World Records, the brand-new label of Matt Leech, formerly of Harrisonburg’s Funny/Not Funny label. I’ve been listening to a copy of it for the last week or so, and it sounds pretty great! I’ve got a review of the record further down in the post (Spoiler: I like it!), but first here’s the show details:
The opening act is Eternal Summers, the thoroughly excellent duo from Roanoke who make energetic, jangly grunge-pop, reminscent of the Breeders and the Raincoats (I believe they have a bunch of new songs and perhaps also a bass player; they’ve also got an EP out now, I think — at least, we have a whisper-quiet CDR of it at the station, though I’ve yet to see a physical copy). That’s a band I’d cancel my plans to see any time they’re in town, so having them on the bill tonight makes for a double-treat.
The show is at the Southern; doors open at 9pm; before, after, and in-between the bands, we’ll hear music DJ’d by Lunatic and the Rascal, aka the Borrowed Beams mainman’s Invisible Hand bandmates Adam Smith and Thomas Dean (we’ve been hearing their respective softer sides at Radio Bistro these past weeks, so I’m thinking they may bust out the dancefloor jams tonight); the cover charge is $8.
And without further ado, here’s more about the album itself:
Borrowed Beams of Light is the solo project of Adam Brock, whom you probably recognize as the drummer from Invisible Hand; on this release he’s joined by his former Nice Jenkins bandmates Jordan Brunk and Adam Walsh, as well as Jordan’s partner-in-Corsair Marie Landragin, and the Hilarious Posters’ Dave Gibson.
You may recall the self-titled debut EP from two years ago, which went out of its’ way to be insanely catchy on every track, beginning songs with the level of howling pop bombast that even a band like Queen would have saved for the chorus or the bridge; it could have proved irritating, but ultimately it won us all over. The full-length is not quite as insanely exuberant (which is almost a relief); instead it’s a far more subtle and mature effort. There may not be a must-hit-repeat “hit single” as singularly great as “Julie, What’s That Spell?” or “John, at the Reception,” but the overall album is stronger and more coherent for it, and goes a long way towards establishing Borrowed Beams as a singular and serious musical voice, rather than a one-off oddity.
The bands’ biggest strength is that they manage to sell a lot of peculiar, idiosyncratic weirdness as straightforward pop; on first listen it’s a perfectly likable summertime retro light-pop-rock album (coming in at a lean 35mins), but closer inspection reveals some wonderfully inscrutable lyrical turns (“When you’re hiding out, the syntax reeks of glossolalia / someone found you out, among the souks of Jamma el Fna”) and songs structures more complicated than they first appear. Brock claims the whole record is in fact a concept album based on the Voynich manuscript, although like all concept albums, the themes are far clearer to the songwriter than to the listener — the good news is that, ultimately, I think we’re getting the best of both worlds, here.
The record’s best stretch is undoubtedly tracks #3-5, where Brock’s songwriting shines through the strongest: “Holy Cow” is both the catchiest and strangest track, alternating energetic rock-outs with arch lyrical whimsy worthy of Brian Ferry (though the slight overproduction sadly obscures some of the songs’ subtlety); “Half Light” is a stately and romantic mid-tempo number that reminds me a great deal of early Marc Bolan (especially back in the pre-abbreviation “Tyrannosaurus Rex” era); “the Night Watch” is a short ballad which surprised me by being the album’s strongest point — it may be the record’s most straightforward song (“If we’re just gonna wait ’til the dawn, I need something to steady my nerve / let’s spill our guts and get drunk on the stuff that remains in the moon’s yellow curve”), but it’s also the most accomplished and effortless.
There are other highlights here as well, from the goofy surf-rock of “Hang 1000” and the killer bliss of title track’s album-closing climax. While the surface-level appeal may not be as immediately apparent as the home-run power-pop of their debut, I think it’s ultimately the strongest stuff I’ve heard from Borrowed Beams yet.