Photo by Peter Ellenby BEULAH
It used to be that you could turn to Beulah for a quick sonic pick-me-up. With barrages of bouncy horns, near-subliminal accordions and clap-along percussion, their previous releases—1999's When Your Heartstrings Break and 2001's The Coast Is Never Clear—transcended the standard-issue indie-pop of catchy guitar riffs and goofy lyrics. On Yoko, the band downshift their effortlessly giddy sound. They retain some of their pop sensibilities—hummable melodies and a tambourine tap or two—but instead of delivering an instant sugar rush, Beulah now invite you to listen: a lie-on-your-back-with-headphones-on, think-about-your-ex-and-notice-every-single-piano-tinkle kind of listen. And while Yoko does have its share of brighter moments, namely the Wilco-esqe "Landslide Baby" and Coast-reminiscent "My Side of the City," the majority of the album remains shrouded in intricate layers of beautifully discordant background noise, ranging from isolated xylophone chimes to lingering distorted guitar chords. The result—especially on the tracks "You're Only King Once" and "Fooled With the Wrong Guy," featuring a despairingly lonesome banjo—is an album that is half sleepy bedroom angst, half luscious California pop. Undoubtedly, fans will read Beulah's departure from their earlier lighthearted indie pop offerings as credence to omnipresent rumors of an impending split, although it's more probable that the sound is a result of the band's teaming with Yo La Tengo producer Roger Moutenot. Regardless, it's a welcome step, however stark its departure, in a deliciously darker direction.