Songs From The Land of Nod - Beechwood (Alive Natural Sound)
They don’t have Real Rock and Roll bands in New York City any more, do they? Don’t kid yourself, kid. They might be hard to find but they’re still there, their beating hearts buried under 50 feet of radio-friendly dross and cultural fragmentation.
No, Virginia, there’s no CBGBs. They made a shitty telemovie about it and moved the awning to an airport bar, somewhere. It was a shadow of what it was, even when I got there in the mid-‘80s. There’s no Max’s, either. Times Square is more family friendly than a Disney dance party. Even The Continental is just a dive bar now, more famous for (literally) banning a figure of speech than the Joey Ramone parties it used to host in the ‘80s.
Gentrification has a lot of downsides and one is squeezing cultural outsiders to the extreme margins. Art mostly doesn’t pay the rent, pegged or non existent. The NY rock “scene” is in Brooklyn these days, by all accounts. It has been for quite some time but it’s mostly disposable pop. Thank fuck, then, for Beechwood.
They’re a trio and their sound is more shambolic psychedelia than the straight-up, guitar cut-and-thrust of The Bowery, as it used to be. Glammy and trashy, as much of the best Manhattan rock always was. Guitars filtered through a dirty bong, rather than an overdrive and something much sharper.
Allegedly the result of the musical coming together of “an anti-social petty thief, a male hustler, and a delinquent runaway”, these guys are young and anti-social enough to have had New York’s finest beat the fuck out of them during an unauthorised Lower East Side street party last year.
“Songs From The Land of Nod” is raw and real. It’s Gordon Lawrence’s plaintive vocal and cat’s moan guitar, with the engine room of Isa Tineo (drums) and Sid Simons (bass) cajoling rather than driving many, if not all, of the songs. The tight looseness is a giveaway that rehearsing for hours in an airless room is not their destiny, nor their abiding fixation. The vaguely Suicide-sounding "This Time Around", on the other hand, throbs with a tight intensity that says Beechwood is a band that knows exactly what it's doing.
There's the odd snoozer but the energetic ones - like "This Time Around" and "I Don't Wanna Be The One You Love", the latter, a sidewalk surfiin' blend of sharp fuzz guitars and rolling drums - reveal Beechwood to be the descendants of punks that you might have suspected they were all along. Like The Star Sprangles without so much pop.
There's a fuzz-shrouded cover of "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" that I bet is a show-stopper. It sure works fine on CD. "Melting Around" marries acrid guitar to a Spacemen 3 style psych vamp and vampiric lyrics. "Pulling Through" threatens to stray into narcolepsy and stay there (the album title does refer to the Land of Nod, after all) but stays afloat thanks to some captivating guitar.
"Heroin Honey" (seemingly not a brand endorsement as much as an ode to a significant other) is damn fine ragged pop, while the slow-burning "C/F" shows a grasp of dynamics that pushes Lawrence's untutored guitar nicely to the fore in a meltdown that would have done Uncle Lou proud. Then Beechwood flick the switch to backward masking and a whimsical glam-pop chorus in "All For Naught". It's skilful stuff that sounds a little special.
Several spins in, this is a band worth pursuing wherever their freak flag is flying. Hope they hang in there 'cos the ride could get even more interesting if they keep going. The Strokes, they are not.