Beulah with Mates OF State at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Tuesday (October 9). $8. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
little did miles kurosky realizewhile strumming together song ideas for the new Beulah album during his vacation in Japan that his long-distance jamming scheme would actually bring the group closer together as a recording unit. Kurosky's plan involved sending each Beulah member a cassette with an album's worth of his skeletal song ideas and instructions to work them up however they liked on their own home 4-track machines. They would then send their versions back to Kurosky to use the best bits from each version as a recording blueprint.
It sounds crazy, but the concept was a smashing success, as Beulah's stunning new The Coast Is Never Clear (Velocette) album confirms. Each three-minute tune is a miniature pop symphony loaded with clever hooks and unexpected turns that could only be the product of seven twisted minds.
"Making this album definitely became more of a collective experience than it would've been if we'd done things as we usually do," explains Kurosky from a Motel 6 in Denton, Texas.
"I think working on their tapes autonomously freed them up to put more of themselves into the songs. If we'd just worked it all out at rehearsals, they would've been influenced by what the other members were doing and whatever direction the album was moving.
"Thinking back, it's interesting that I can't really remember who came up with which parts, and that's the great thing about this record -- it's a true band effort."
The real achievement here is that they were able to distill the many ideas into wonderfully coherent and memorable songs. A tune like Cruel Minor Chase has the inventive ring of a hammer dulcimer playing off a tamboura drone and aquatic moog blurt, and it works seamlessly without ever sounding like an experiment in exoticism.
However unlikely the juxtapositions of accordion, saw, trumpet and finger-cymbals may be, Beulah never lose sight of the fact that they're making pop music. It's infinitely more colourful, crafty and literate than much of what happens to be popular at the moment, but it's still pop.
And they couldn't care less if anyone thinks a bittersweet gem like Popular Mechanics For Lovers -- which deals with the songwriter's horror of losing a love to another tunesmith -- isn't trippy enough for a band that belongs to the Elephant 6 clique. Perhaps the absence of an Elephant 6 logo on the new album sleeve wasn't an oversight.
"Throughout our whole career we've heard things like "That doesn't sound like an Elephant 6 song,'" groans Kurosky, "it's either not psychedelic enough or too straightforward pop or whatever.
"Any time you're associated with something bigger than your band and bigger than your music, people start placing certain expectations on you. When people outside the group start telling you how you should sound, I don't think that helps the development of your music."