In my Media Music 101 class, I learned how the system works. A label with a shit-hot artist -- let's say the Geffen/Nirvana combo -- scours the globe for similar bands. Once they're found, the groups are signed and given a stipend, their albums are shelved and they're basically paid to shut up, adding fuel to the bitter phrase "keep your enemies closer".
Luckily, Saddle Creek hasn't tucked Beep Beep away in the "gives The Faint a run for their money" file, because...well, they do. Beep Beep immediately recall those legendarily spastic new-new-wavers, but distinguish themselves by wielding a few secret weapons of their own. Business Casual is one of those discs that gets you tapping your foot at the intro, and by the end your whole body is flailing, regardless of whether anyone at the store/office/bus stop is watching. However, the disc isn't merely a party jam -- there's quite a bit of depth here, musically speaking, and certainly more than you'd expect to find among the current crop of post-punk freaks.
Just as you'd expect from a band affiliated with the Omaha scene, "I Am the Secretary" jolts awake out of its grave: aggressive drums are mixed with chugging, razor-edge guitars, but the thing that stabs you in the throat when you're not looking is Chris Hughes's voice. Equal parts Conor Oberst, Beck, Robert Smith and Karen O, Hughes is the type of singer who freezes you in your tracks, a look of disbelief on your face with regard to (a) whether he's for real, and (b) when his head will explode. His subject matter, ranging from office politics to masturbating over the phone to someone in a school-girl uniform, only furthers his sickeningly lovely persona. In this particular song, his dry screech is overdubbed with a ring modulated copy, leaving you in suspense as to which one will explode first (hint: it's a tie). Subtle elements -- background drones, syncopation between bass and guitars, delayed vocal effects and stomp-box color shifts -- fill out the orchestration and expand the toothpick-and-glue-sculpture-that's-cool-enough-be-on-display-at-the-Guggenheim vibe that's prevalent throughout the disc. "Oh No!" carries the torch, burning your face in the course of its two-minute sonic blast. It rocks just a bit faster than the previous track; Hughes has a nervous break-down, bursting into maniacal laughter, eating "the mints off your pillow" and laying on the bed to "play for you, guitar solo" -- and what a Blues Explosion-esque solo it is! His last three breaths sound as if he's screaming into a pillow, harder and harder, letting you know that he wasn't kidding when he said, "You unhinge your skull and show them your brain in a stream of consciousness mode" (It was his answer to a question about how he approaches songwriting). "Giggle Gaggle" rides a similar wave: it's a simple tale of underage cheerleader sex, our soldier of love calling his paramour in the middle of the night to say, "I'm sorry, I don't mean to call you so late / I just wanted to let you know I'm beating off / high kick, now do the splits!" Hughes claims this was written thirteen years ago... Eric Bemberger's guitar can only be described as bionic -- he alternates between double and triple time, dropping blues licks over jazz licks over noise-laden feedback, effectively finishing the track with a literal smash.
The group has a softer side, but only just. On "Electronic Wolves", bongos, disco drums and Phrygian harmonies cover the demon's-resume lyrics, which speak of "soiled dollars, touching your skin", internet porn where "you can cover your flesh even though it doesn't belong to you". Closer "The Threat of Nature" douses itself in early Cure and late Joy Division nostalgia, shimmering in a pale light of synthetic drums, effects pedals and studio tricks. Drummer Mike Sweeney and former bassist Katie Muth accompany Bemberger, shifting from genre to genre in an ironic attempt to dispel the threat of anything organic regaining hold over the mechanical world ("look at the song-birds, now kill them / they are air space they don't pay their taxes"). A deeply political message? Possibly, but I think the band is just happy to show off the number of different sounds they can (tastefully) fit onto a song.
28 minutes later starting Business Casual, you won't bet sure whether you blacked out from a seizure, gave birth to twins or simply had one of the best musical experiences of your life. But one thing is certain: if you make it through once, you'll probably put it on repeat for the rest of the day (I think I'm up to spin number thirteen as I write).
There was a time, only a few years ago, when you could strap on a telecaster and kick the fuck out of your amp while yelling with orgasmic glee over a disco loop, and everyone would swoon before your post-punk Renaissance. The bar has been raised since then, but Beep Beep have kicked the bar aside and set it on fire. Good luck to anyone who can top that.