They howled for me at just the right time. I’ve been an evangelist for Brooklyn-Boston postpunk group the Beatings for several years now, as the band that distilled the anger and displacement I felt during the worst of the Bush years. Revisiting their mid-2000s discs this week the enthusiasm is unabated — but so are the wars, so is the suctioning of wealth from lowest to high, so is the whittling of constitutional freedoms. The scar’s still hot and raw, demanding a scratch.
Eldridge Rodriguez, also known by his proper name Cameron Keiber, launched his own record label rather than wait around for some outlet to scoop up his bimetropolitan group, and the Beatings served as its flagship. 2002’s Italiano hurled a whallop and drew critical attention. Comparisons to the Pixies were probably inevitable, given the Boston point of origin and the presence of a female bassist, Erin Dalbec, but perhaps fitting: There’s a distinct loud-quiet-loud aesthetic at play in the Beatings’ music too.
The Beatings, “Twins,” from Italiano (2002)
The Beatings’ three vocalists — Rodriguez, Dalbec, and Rodriguez’s fellow guitarist Tony Skalicky — all proved themselves capable of the barbaric vocal yawp that punk and melodicore demand. The wailings complement each other. The language of the band’s manifesto is probably tongue in cheek, but it acknowledges their lyric obsession with decay and change: “Once society is broken down and rebuilt, the prophets of yesteryear will be discussed in whispers …”
If there was a flaw in 2006’s Holding On To Hand Grenades, the band’s cerebral bile-storm of a sophomore studio album, it was structural. The record built on certain themes — industrial decline (“Gas stations where no one is employed/Inventions replaced by Tinker Toys …” from “Upstate Flashbacks”), the abandonment of empathy in favor of entropy (“Dead man on the side of the street wrapped up in cellophane …” from “A Responsible Person”), and societal collapse. Those threads go back at least to Italiano‘s “New Destroyer.” Hand Grenades is a Katrina album, if that makes sense.
This is all admirable, but the record is frontloaded with hard grinders, rather than interspersing its softer numbers like Dalbec’s showpiece “Pennsyltuckey” throughout. When a rocker with a title like “Feel Good Ending” is the fifth track out of thirteen, the blocks are stacked a little sideways. This song is a closer. Probably not an issue in the age of the malleable MP3 mix, but a CD is a static medium.
The band takes its time between releases, pursuing side projects and day jobs, to the point that aficionados like me sometimes get panic attacks over the idea that they’ve broken up. Dalbec, for instance, is a school librarian who I’m willing to bet doesn’t sing “Stockholm Syndrome Relapse” for her students. When not pulling from their own catalog in concert, they’re known to touch on another of my favorite bands from time to time:
The Beatings, “Smothered in Hugs,” Guided By Voices cover
Late Season Kids took its bow in 2011, and it seemed to mark a more hopeful, less aggro approach. The roar was still there, but it was more … optimistic, maybe? “Bury You,” for instance, is basically a love song that looks at obstacles in the way of a mature relationship and tries to see around them. “All The Things You’ve Been Missing” is regretful, but not raging. Maybe it’s a function of aging, or of seeking a wider audience, but the new direction is still worth following. When I’m unhappy, I’ve always got the earlier stuff.
Rodriguez promised new things for the band in an interview early this year, and the band’s Facebook page promises a new album is in mixdown. This is hopeful stuff. For the record, I have no idea if these are the same Beatings who nudged the UK Beatings into changing their name to the Beat Up before they disbanded in 2006 — but I do know whose music I’d rather listen to, and feed my anger with.