The Beakers ‎– Four Steps Toward A Cultural Revolution

Label:
K ‎– KLP163
Format:
Vinyl, Compilation, LP
Country:
Released:
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Style:

Tracklist

A1 Red Towel
A2 4 Steps Toward A Cultural Revolution
A3 Football Season's In Full Swing
A4 Walking (Showbox)
A5 Bones
A6 What's Important?
A7 3 Important Domestic Inventions
A8 Third In B (Berkeley Square)
A9 Christmas Letter From Home
B1 Fig. 21
B2 Dinosaurus Mambo (Showbox)
B3 I'm Crawling
B4 Use Your Fingers (Berkeley Square)
B5 Line Up
B6 Insulation (Showbox)
B7 Thinking Postmodern
B8 Funky Town (Berkeley)

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kylejacobritter

kylejacobritter

November 12, 2015
edited 8 months ago
The Beakers were a 4-piece from the Seattle area, comprised of Jim Anderson (sax/vocals), Frank Sundsten (bass), Mark H. Smith (guitar and vocals) and George Romansic (drums). They had a 12-month reign of terror from January 1980-January 1981, in which they recorded a couple compilations and toured like maniacs, even playing shows with the almighty Gang of Four.

As far as I can tell, barely any of the tracks on FOUR STEPS TOWARD A CULTURAL REVOLUTION (KLP163) had ever been released before. They certainly had never been compiled in any sort of format until Calvin Johnson and his International Pop Underground did so in 2004.

From beginning to end, the 17 tracks make up a bizarre, sputtering, push-me-pull-you of discordant pop. Smith’s guitar dinks around in tinny rhythms, heavily weighted toward the bridge pickup. Meanwhile Sundsten crawls up and down his fretboard playing party scales gone slightly awry. Every track has the skeleton of a radio hit, and it's Sundsten's bass that creates that vibe.

But the real hallmark of The Beakers’ sound is Anderson’s utterly unhinged saxophone. It clamors in and out whenever it feels the Spirit’s call, sporadic like a kid popping bubble wrap. It is abusive. I’ve never heard a sax played like that before—just reamed for everything it’s worth—and I don’t think anyone outside jazz has had the balls to try it since. The best example is the record’s opening track, Red Towel (Mr. Brown), in which the manic squawking continues non-stop for the duration of the 2 minutes and 49 seconds. By the first breakdown in the song, you're still trying to comprehend what’s going on, but by the second, you find yourself hooked by the energy.

Romansic’s drums fit with the rest of it, mostly because they’re mechanical. But it seems like the metronomic nature of it comes almost out of necessity because of the cacophony occurring around it. Someone had to keep order. The responsibility fell to the drum-man, whose rhythm remains the one stable presence throughout the freak outs and fits of the other three.

The tracks come with varying degrees of production quality. Some are live, some are studio, or in another studio, or in a garage/basement/refrigerator/whatever, perhaps recorded months removed from each other. This all leads to a peculiar listening experience.

This record isn’t just an aberrational gimmick, though. There are themes. In their own way, The Beakers explore their disillusionment with modernity as rock & rollers should. By juxtaposing scientific description of cathode ray tubes with feelings of human attraction, the track 3 Important Domestic Inventions disputes that inanimate objects can be a source of happiness. The track feels much like Money For Nothing would if Dire Straights were good at making music and came from the Moon.

If 3 Important Domestic Inventions illustrate the way The Beakers feel about external influences on their humanity, the unnerving track Bones looks inward by ruminating on the futility of wanting to be good but having the “big stain” of self-interest. The track is brilliant in keeping the listener off-kilter despite being in a very danceable 4/4 time. The vocals give an impression of someone not quite succeeding in staying in their right mind. The desperate tone parallels the conflicting noise.

It’s hard to see where The Beakers thought they’d go next. Perhaps this crisis is why they only made it a year before burning out, who knows?