My heart goes out to you if you’ve ever been stuck in a room with a bunch of Beulah fans. They’ll undoubtedly begin to argue over which album is the best, with no end in sight to this petty quarrel. “Yoko is their most mature and well thought out work," one may say, while another replies with, “But the cool pop of The Coast Is Never Clear is surely better". A third jumps in on the conversation; “Pfft, everyone knows their debut, Handsome Western States, is the best because it captures that pure organic feel of the band. And it’s lo-fi! Do you hear me? Lo-fi!" Meanwhile, another enters the chatter, simply says “When Your Heartstrings Break", and begins to grin.
Beulah’s 1997 debut, Handsome Western States, was probably enough to single handedly launch the band. This album was released on the famous (or infamous) one-part-Beach-Boys-one-part-Beatles indie pop label, Elephant 6. Under the command of lyricist and vocalist Miles Kurosky (who sounds very similar to Doug Martsch or Built to Spill), Beulah recruited an additional 18 musicians and some slick production for their 1999 sophomore album, When Your Heartstrings Break. The strings and brass sections add a great deal of diversity to their music. While they give the band and album a very distinct sound, it does however eliminate some of the track-by-track diversity you find in indie pop/rock giants like Built to Spill or Spoon, since some of the songs seem to run together.
The songs all have some common threads running through them, and this is a positive thing. The brass parts specifically echo throughout each song, where you’ll have minor variations on a theme from start to finish. All the additional musicians are used perfectly to convey emotion. Slower songs like Silverado Days and Calm Go the Wild Seas
use flute, accordion, violin, piano and harp to express a melancholy feeling. The brass section is used to add to the warm feeling of the slower songs, but more often you’ll find them in a raging trombone or sax melody.
At their core, each song is an offbeat love song. Rather than croon about a broken heart, Kurosky pens his lyrics with style, bliss, and a bit of quirkiness. Song titles like If We Can Land on the Moon, Surely I Can Win Your Heart
hint at the playful feeling of the songs. Complementing these uplifting and dreamy lyrics are the lush vocal harmonies. Emma Blowgun’s Last Stand
is the best example of the sound of this album, and is an absolutely incredible song. The song begins with a two and a half minute sublime introduction that throws a little bit of everything into the mix. Gentle strings and keyboards compliment a steady drumbeat and lead into a distorted guitar riff. Then a parade of brass stampedes in only to be followed by wonderful Beach Boy caliber harmonies.
There are so many things you can say about When Your Heartstrings Break
. It’s an indie pop masterpiece with intelligent lyrics. Its lush and inviting music lures the listener in for repeated listens. One could easily describe every single sound included on the album and obsess over every detail, but the music is much better speaking for itself. Beulah created a very upbeat and accessible album with When Your Heartstrings Break where every song is enjoyable and adds equally to the experience. The multiple layers of sound transport the listener into another world that looks something like the cover art, but filled with more color, joy, and relaxation.