Review Summary: Subtle, stunning crescendos
There are moments on Beheaded that almost feel too abrasive and too angular, and then a warm melodic surge instills the track with a momentary, incandescent flair. This is magnified in the center of the album’s fourth track, “What’s Missing” — a familiar occurrence considering Bedhead’s pinnacles and valleys, though nonetheless striking. Pairing the midnight ambience of Slint with the subtle, gorgeous crescendos of Red House Painters, Bedhead championed an idiosyncratic arrangement that aided in a movement. Some referred to it as slowcore, others post rock, though one thing was for certain — Bedhead were one of the unheralded heroes of 90s indie rock. Today’s standards might peg Beheaded for an exercise in minimalism considering it featured the usual complement of drums, guitars, bass and vocals, though there was a deep complexity in the arrangement, emphasized by the decentralization of vocals, gradual dynamic shifts, and a vehement, unrivaled intensity. Boasting a three guitar attack, inferior groups may fall into the trap of guitar worship, though Bedhead weaved together its guitar parts meticulously, in the modest means possible. Beheaded was ambitious and would even be considered groundbreaking if it were just a tad more popular, but most significantly, it was emotive and unfeigned.
Though their debut, WhatFunLifeWas is the band’s most celebrated record, the following, Beheaded is more cohesive and ultimately true to their identity. The release’s second track, “The Rest of the Day” defines the music of Bedhead — barely audible, whispered vocals and a sweeping, ever patient build up that reaches the supposed summit on multiple occasions. With their vocals alone, Matt and Bubba Kadane were critical to the sound and vibe surrounding Bedhead — a tactic mastered by the likes of Slint and Eric’s Trip. And while, akin to Slint, Bedhead let emotion steer its dynamic shifts, their sonic composition set them apart. The “guitar record” that avoided extravagance at every turn, Beheaded was never tempted to fill in space — the pauses are as impactful as each guitar note. It’s a patient affair, but it doesn’t exist solely for the various apexes. The subdued “Burned Out” could be the record’s best showcase for the guitarists — arpeggiated, fingerpicked lines meld with clean, noodling leads. What’s particularly striking is the layering that unmasks a “full” sound that barely notes the absence of the rhythm section. Throughout Beheaded, subtle electrical swells transcend the sonic arrangement alone, lending itself to a deep poignancy.
Beheaded is cohesive, but not necessarily homogeneous, and “Felo de Se” breaks convention by being, well, conventional, but it’s short lived sandwiched between the towering dynamics of “Withdraw” and the forlorn “Lares and Penates,” both of which stay true to their “slowcore” tendencies. For once in the album, Bedhead fill a whole lyrics sheet and provide a breath of fresh air with a persistent burst of energy, and on “Roman Candle,” an earworm, all-consuming melody could be Beheaded’s warmest several minutes if you aren’t paying close attention to the scathing lyrics. With Beheaded, and Bedhead as a whole, it’s about the music, though the songwriting strikes a chord. On the closer, “Losing Memories,” the anxious hush of the narrative parallels the soundscape — “But there’s a sound the quiet makes now, more disquieting than your scream. Losing memories begins and ends with the senses.”
Almost 25 years later, Bedhead leaves behind a legacy as tangled as the interlocking guitars they commanded. In the days of early post rock, its pieces were structured irregularly, but they were still rock songs, a far cry from the grandiose, vocal-deprived and climax-driven tracks that surfaced just a few years later. Similarities with Slint are apparent, though their unwavering commitment to a tight, intricate arrangement places them alongside Pygmalion-era Slowdive and Talk Talk. Yet, Bedhead are never bracketed in the same discussion as those definitive 90s artists. They crafted music that was raw, potent, and consistent with human emotion, and the impact is perhaps more personal than with any of their peers.