Review Summary: Handsome Western States perfectly encompasses everything 90's indie rock from the midwest was about
Handsome Western States
1997 was a very important year for indie and alternateive rock music. The giant of alt rock that would dominate the charts in just a few years were still relatively fresh on the scene; grunge was on its way out, and independent music labels and bands across the United States (particularly the midwestern ones) were starting to garner some attention.
A good amount of these artists emerged from the legendary Elephant 6 Collective, a record label which is the home of a number of indie band renowned for taking major influences from 60's rock and pop groups like The Beatles or The Beach Boys. While their sound may have been built from the aforementioned groups, they were still known for having a bit more of an experimental side, often expanding on their sound beyond just being "just another Beatles clone". They are also infamous for having dense, fuzzy-sounding guitar and a often streching beyond the "guitar bass and drums" formula that is so popular with most rock. Beulah is one of those artists.
Handsome Western States delivers everything you would expect from an indie rock album with it's name: raw, distorted, catchy and generally light-hearted indie rock in the vein of Pavement. However, what sets this apart from the boys who pioneered this style (other than the lo-fi production) of rock is their frequent use of instruments such as trumpets, clarinets, violins, and pianos. They will often start with a simple guitar riff, add the bass, drums and vocals through verses and introduce different instruments peridocially over the tracks, to keep things interesting.
Not that this album needs them, though. The catchy and expansive songwriting presented here is easily it's major asset. Several of the songs, being so short (the longest one clocks in at 4:17, nearly a minute longer than any other song on the album) do not always follow the traditional "verse-chorus-verse-bridge" format that is so commonplace in rock music. While they do at times adhere to this formula, many of the songs will introduce a guitar riff or vocal melody, play around with it for a bit, then throw it away and introduce a new one in the next verse, while adding some instruments or sound effects through out. The tracks will typically climax with an anthemic, booming chorus that will remain stuck in your head for days. (California!)
If there is one thing that may turn a listener off from this album, it's the production. While the recording may be in lo-fi, the band embraces this with their energy and ability to create a friendly atmosphere through warm bass, soaring horned and woodwind instruments and amazingly smooth vocal delivery. However, the low production value can take away from the impact of hte bass guitar and drums; at times the bass is nearly inaudible (although when it is prominent, it is quite enjoyable), and the cymbals and snare can be a tad overpowering compared to the rest of the instruments.
Regardless of any production problems, however, Handsome Western States perfectly encompasses everything 90's indie rock from the midwest was about
: youthful, rocking yet mature songwriting with clever lyricism and lots of energy. All that plus some damn catchy hooks makes for one solid indie rock album. The only major flaw of the album is that it runs for just over a half-hour. But that's not really
a flaw, now is it?