Review Summary: Making Italo Disco feel modern
Although Glass Candy was the first major project that Johnny Jewel was involved with, it seems to have gone on the back burner in recent years. In the interim, his other projects (Chromatics, Desire, Symmetry) have put out releases that have received much acclaim in the indie music press and, in the case of the former two, have appeared in major motion pictures. That's not to say Glass Candy have been totally dormant, as they have released a handful of individual tracks and an EP between the release of this album and the date of this review's publication. They have also been hitting the festival circuit this summer, which has been providing them with some much-needed buzz as the release of their next full-length is supposedly on the horizon. With that in mind, their 2nd full-length and most successful release, B/E/A/T/B/O/X, is worth an examination.
As soon as the album is put on, the listener is greeted with a somewhat cheesy intro that consists of spoken dialogue from vocalist Ida No that could have been easily quoted from any number of budget exercise videos from the 80s or 90s. This intro is a bit annoying and feels a tad out of place, but the warm electronics and overall retro feel are a primer for the rest of the album. Things improve immediately right as the next track, "Beatific", begins. "Beatific" sounds like a synthesis between the energetic italo disco-esque music that dominates the majority of the album and the more subdued indie-rock w/an injection of disco of Jewel's Chromatics and Desire projects. This style is successfully continued with the next track, "Etheric Device".
When the 4th track, "Candy Castle", kicks into gear, that's when the album starts to truly establish its own identity. Ida No yelps her somewhat mysterious lyrics over an energetic drum pattern and woozy analog synths and (likely sampled) horns. It's a very groovy track, and sets the listener up for the following two; "Rolling Down The Hills" and "Life After Sundown". These tracks are even more energetic than "Candy Castle". They make up the best stretch of the album, and manage to successfully continue an individual sound (groovy baselines, 80s-style disco synths) while keeping it fresh for each track. It's very easy to set up a few tropes for an album's style, shift things around slightly, and call it a day. Glass Candy, however, definitely make an effort to ensure that the listener is continually entertained and the musical content is varied throughout.
This philosophy of keeping things fresh and varied doesn't entirely work as the album continues, however. Their cover of Kraftwerk's classic "Computer Love" has the misfortune of working, but at the same time, not. It stays true to the spirit of the original while applying the Glass Candy sound, but it doesn't really work in the context of the album. Glass Candy's take on Kraftwerk's minimalist style doesn't gel with the bombastic electronics that make up the proceeding tracks. As an individual track, it's awesome. However, as a part of a whole, it is somewhat lacking. Unfortunately, this continues with the next track, "Last Night I Met a Costume". It's an instrumental that's even more subdued than the Kraftwerk cover, and gives off a dark and ominous vibe which is an even bigger clash with the album's previous sound than "Computer Love" was.
Fortunately, the album ends on a very high note with the track "Digital Versicolor", a booming, banging track that makes the listener want to get up and dance while Ida No gives a slightly more subdued vocal performance. The synths bring the vintage sound in full force, and the ending coda manages to successfully implement the ominous sound that didn't work prior. This is due to the fact that despite it's darkness, it has life and energy to it. It's not just dropped in, it's gradually introduced and the track's transition from a bombastic old-school-style club banger to a dark and woozy analog synth pattern is a very well-executed one. It's placement as the closer is what seals the deal here, as it helps guide the album to a very natural sounding end.
Overall, B/E/A/T/B/O/X comes highly recommended. It just oozes pure energy and successfully manages to reinterpret a decades-old style of dance music (italo disco) and make it sound fresh again. Ida No is a successful vocalist who works within the range of her voice and gives the listener much to ponder with her never-totally-clear lyrics. The album isn't without flaw, unfortunately. The intro doesn't totally work, the less energetic sound that some of the songs take towards the end tend to feel out-of-place, and some of the longer tracks tend to meander slightly in their musical direction, overstaying their welcome somewhat. However, don't let those small caveats stop you from listening. It's a very well-made album, and is a clear indicator of the direction Johnny Jewel would guide his other projects in the future.