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Record Reviews

 

Magnet Magazine review of “You Make It Look So Easy” LP – Fred Mills, 2003
An Elephant 6 expatriate relocated to Portland, Ore., Ross Beach–who played in both the Gerbils and Neutral Milk Hotel during his Southern residency–is nothing if not assertive on his solo debut. Opener “Beautiful Worms” has a classic power-pop melodic shimmer and rhythmic throb, its chirpy vocal choruses and wheezing synth additionally bringing to mind a long lost Cars outtake. Then You Make It look So Easy just gets better, traversing a range of catchy pop styles including sunny/strummy psych, jittery new wave and lo-fi garage. It’s easy to pick apart Beach’s songs; you detect R.E.M. (vocally, Beach resembles a cross between Michael Stipe, Vic Chesnutt and Stan Ridgway), the Byrds (cosmic-cowboy era; nice piano and slide guitar in places) and plenty of E6-friendly 60′s musical icons. At the same time, Beach is hardly derivative, given his uniquely toned voice, knack for melody and dynamics and attention to sonic detail in his endlessly twisting musical arrangements. Beach tours with a bassist and drummer as the Hellpets, and the name is apt; while his overall sound can be cuddly and make you fell warm all over, his songs have a ferocious, hard-to-forget bite.

Delusions of Adequacy review of “You Make It Look So Easy” LP – Stephen Swift, 2003
File Under: Good-natured, honest pop, and about time
RIYL: Early REM, The Go-Betweens, The Gerbils
Ross Beach’s music career reads like one of those old Marvel Comics “What If”s: As a bassist for The Gerbils and a live guitarist for Neutral Milk Hotel, and friend of Rob “Apples in Stereo” Schneider, Ross had to choose partway through his college career between getting a degree and helping to found the legendary Elephant Six Collective – and chose college. I can’t imagine which would be more frustrating: having to constantly compare one’s own musical endeavors against the ridiculously beloved and successful collective all your old college friends founded, or, inevitably, being compared to those same friends every time someone finds out you toured with Jeff Mangum. In fact, those looking for more fuzz-folk or psychindiedelia are looking in the wrong place; Ross Beach has his feet firmly planted in straightforward pop territory. The good news, however, is that he knows what he’s doing.

The 17 tracks on You Make it Look So Easy are folk- and country-tinged pop songs, not entirely dissimilar to some of the Magnetic Fields’ less synthy jaunts, all with Beach’s strong voice dominating the mix. What distinguishes the songs from other music of this ilk that’s come before are Beach’s lyrics, which have a tendency to toe the line separating “honest” and “goofy.” While he is not entirely inaccurate in describing a sensation common to many nervous romantics – starting a song with the line, “I’m probably gonna vomit when you walk in the room,” and keeping to that thread, unironically, throughout “In Like With You” – is perhaps too much a knee-jerk reaction to both Pavementesque lyrical irony and twee-pop syrup-thick wordsmithing. Similarly, wondering whether one prefers people or sheep on “I Prefer Sheep,” without any noticeable trace of metaphor or tongue-in-cheek is a disconcerting choice to have made, and one that leaves me a little cold.

But these songs are not the norm, and most of the album consists of songs that are just off-kilter enough for their own good – such as “Step Put into the Sun,” which wouldn’t have been out of place on REM’s Out of Time, and the melancholy, almost uncharacteristically wistful “It Won’t Matter / Oh the Humanity.” Seventeen songs might be a little ambitious, but the album clocks in at just over 40 minutes, and the occasional clunker aside, it feels like the right length.

While Ross Beach doesn’t quite manage to top his previous efforts with The Gerbils (to compare his work to that of Jeff Mangum, with whom Beach only ever toured, would be patently unfair and misleading), he showcases a knack for penning songs with a consistent feel and intelligence. The album’s greatest stumbling block, aside from the previously mentioned lyrical missteps, is likely a lack of memorable melodies or riffs – but I trust that, within time, Ross Beach will come up with something really excellent. For now, this is an unexpected and pleasant surprise from the camp of someone who was ballsy enough to take book-learnin’ over a musical collective, and if country-fried indie pop is your bag, you’d do well to check out You Make it Look So Easy.

Splendid E-zine review of “You Make It Look So Easy” LP – Mandy Shekleton, 2003
If I didn’t have the CD case and press release here assuring me that this is, in fact, Ross Beach, I’d swear that You Make It Look So Easy was the great lost Minus 5 country album. Beach’s slightly nasal voice is a dead ringer for that of Scott McCaughey, and his jangly pop sensibilities and lyrical quirks have much more in common with McCaughey than with any of Beach’s former Elephant 6 cohorts. It’s all a little bewildering, and fairly original while still seeming familiar — it takes talent and guts to take on that skewed pop attitude while almost never turning it into a cheap joke. Sure, you might’ve heard it before, but only once or twice.

Okay, so You Make It Look So Easy isn’t without its weak points. There is a downside to sounding so much like another band. Admittedly, most of the comparison comes from Beach’s vocal quirks, and one can’t really help the way one sounds. It just so happens that he sounds that way. Then you add the bright pop sensibility and the unorthodox subject matter — for instance, that of “I Prefer Sheep”, during which the narrator mulls over whether he likes sheep more than people, or just more than the person he addresses the song to. (He decides on the latter, in case you were curious.) All the same, though, it’s mostly an interesting voice, with infectious melodies and genuinely funny lyrics. With the exception of the irritating, alternately jokey and gooey “In Like With You”, Ross Beach has crafted a damn solid album.

To a point, one does need to take albums on their own merit, regardless of whether it’s “been done”. When a particular artist seems to have happened upon a style eerily similar to another’s, we can’t help but comment on it. But if that particular style is so damn catchy, with tasteful bits of twang here and there and innocently-sung lines like “I thought I was a slut / Turns out I was just polyamorous”, you can get over than and appreciate an album — like, say, You Make It Look So Easy — on its own many strengths.

The Oregonian article by Nestor Ramos, 2003

Beach makes it look easy, with thoughtful indie-rock
It’s not hard to draw comparisons to the sound of Ross Beach’s new solo album, a very solid collection of thoughtful, folksy indie-rock. The trick is sorting them all out

There’s some late-’80s R.E.M. in there, energetic and jangling. At times the lyrics find loopy Pavement territory; the twang that creeps up in his voice brings to mind the country-western efforts of the Mekons or the Go Betweens. A bit of David Byrne is evident in Beach’s delivery. After all that, though, “You Make It Look So Easy” is a thoroughly enjoyable hash, the parts occasionally striking a familiar note, blending into a delicious whole.

Beach, a recent welcome arrival to Portland, was a key member of the Elephant 6, a Southern collaborative that spawned Neutral Milk Hotel, among other indie stalwarts. This, his second solo album, is very accessible and features a top-notch backing band and great production. It’s in the lines — and between them — that Beach challenges and rewards.

“There’s nothing like mass transit/to bring down the property values in your town/have I told you yet today/how much I love you?” Beach sings on “Thank You Come Again.” Stilted, but as it turns out, effective. Much of the record focuses on love and death, frequently juxtaposing bouncy chord progressions with lyrics about disfigurement and loss. Gradually a worldview emerges, built song by song over the CD’s taut 40 minutes.
It’s that surefootedness and consistency of vision that set the record apart. Particularly toward the conclusion, tracks that would otherwise be pedestrian gain a weight from the accumulation of ideas. “Just Like Clifford Brown,” a song about death, expounds on the witty asides and throwaway jokes about disaster and mortality that are peppered throughout the cut.

Beach sings across a spidery bass line and an astral sound effect on “The Meteors,” the spacey, understated number that closes the album. “And if one should fall/ right down on this spot/ to kill the both of us/ still would not/ be a total waste — at least I’d get to think I saw the meteors fall.” Love is always dire, he’s saying, but worthwhile. Not an earth-shattering meteor of an idea. But how it’s said, well, it’s almost enough to make you believe it.

Tablet Newpaper review of “You Make It Look So Easy” LP – Joel Hartse, 2003
It’s my belief that those associated with the infamous Elephant 6 Collective can do no � or at least very little � wrong. Beach, a onetime collaborator with Neutral Milk Hotel, now fronts his own band. Due in no small part to the inscrutable Elephant 6 aesthetic, I find Ross Beach’s You Make it Look So Easy to be a delightful little pop album.

I say “little” deliberately and without condescension; this is pop at its stripped-down, basic best. Beach’s honest voice sometimes recalls the Smoking Pope’s Josh Caterer and, oddly, both Halo Benders (Calvin Johnson and Doug Martsch) He writes infuriatingly catchy pop songs, played on acoustic guitars with tasteful touches of keyboard and electric guitar, sometimes only devoting a minute or 45 seconds to a melody that would be turned into a three-minute single for other bands.

The general shortness of each track lends the album an almost stream-of-consciousness feel, as one singable melody blends into the next. You Make it Look So Easy doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is: a bunch of great songs, played honestly and well, words sung like Ross Beach means them. You can’t ask for much else.

Indieville.com review of “You Make It Look So Easy” LP – Matt Shimmer, 2003
Ross Beach have put country and folk and pop together in a blender and mixed them together. The results are enjoyable once in a while, but can get tiresome after too much listening, especially if country-folk isn’t really your type of thing.

You Make It Look So Easy is quite an achievement for the band. It’s seventeen songs long, with each track around three minutes. Though the tunes are very similar, they’re all very pleasant and easy on the ears. Some songs, like “Thank You Come Again” and “The Good Parts,” are slower, more subdued songs, but most, like the early REM-esque “You And Me” and “Here’s The Part” are upbeat, cheerful numbers. Filled with melodies and pop hooks galore, the songs will likely find themselves in the listener’s heads in no time.

Altogether, You Make It Look So Easy is a fun, catchy album that will appeal to listeners who enjoy the odd bit of folk and country. While their sound can get tiresome after awhile, especially to listeners who aren’t quite attuned to the style of music, the album is still of very high quality. 84%

Chart Attack review of “You Make It Look So Easy” LP – Brian Pascual, 2003
For the last 10 years or so, Ross Beach has recorded seven solo albums and collaborated on 10 more. The only problem is that you’ve likely never heard his name. Doing time with The Gerbils, The Clay Bears (with Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Magnum) and subsequently with Neutral Milk itself, Beach honed his chops in psychedelic, ’60s-influenced pop music. His latest solo effort, You Make It Look So Easy, is a mature version of his earlier work. Most of the songs are straight up, indie guitar pop numbers, with the psychedelia making only subtle appearances (as on opener “Beautiful Worms”). The classic pop aesthetic is there, but this is Adult Contemporary, radio-friendly rock more than anything, definitely not what you’d expect from a graduate of the Elephant 6 collective.

I love this headline.

Kathodik (Italy) Review of “Lunch With A Bouncing Space, Volume 2, 4-30-2002
“Due sono le citt� americane di cui sono follemente innamorato e dove mi sono quindi recato pi� di una volta (e dove prevedo, o quantomeno mi auguro, di fare ritorno al pi� presto): Austin, Texas e Portland, Oregon. La ragione � semplice: laggi� c’� una sacco di musica che attende di essere scoperta e ascoltata. Tuttavia, se questo � un fatto risaputo per quel che riguarda Austin, la quale da tempo � una delle capitali della scena alternativa (e non solo) americana (basti pensare all’annuale festival South By Southwest , la cui edizione 2002 si � appena conclusa), altrettanto non pu� dirsi per Portland, che solo negli ultimi anni � prepotentemente salita alla ribalta del panorama musicale d’oltreoceano, con un rigoglioso fiorire di gruppi ed etichette.
Tra queste ultime s’inserisce la giovane A Bouncing Space, piccola casa discografica nata per iniziativa del pure giovane Jamey Gray, prolifico artista a trecentosessanta gradi (pittore, fotografo e musicista), originario del North Carolina, studente a Brooklyn, e ora residente in quel di Portland. A Bouncing Space � nata quando Jamey ancora viveva nella Grande Mela, quale tape label il cui obiettivo era principalmente quello di promuovere i progetti solisti dello stesso Gray (99Cent Dream e Gessy), ma che gi� con la raccolta “Lunch with A Bouncing Space” si era prodigata a mettere in luce altre piccole e interessanti realt� provenienti da varie parti degli U.S.A. (Sauvie Island Moon Rocket Factory, Hall Monitor, Dandelion Clocks, Alan Wiley).
Trasferitosi a Portland dopo aver terminato gli studi, sul finire dello scorso anno Jamey ha deciso di compiere un salto di qualit�, passando al formato digitale e inaugurando il nuovo corso con la seconda puntata della poc’anzi menzionata compilation.

Ross and the Hellpets, con il maturo e accattivante guitar pop di “It’s enough” (gli Hellpets sono la nuova band di Ross Beach, gi� membro anni addietro di Neutral Milk Hotel e Gerbils).
Vengono poi ospitati nomi che erano stati a suo tempo protagonisti della prima puntata: Dandelion Clocks (“Closing time”, semplice e strepitoso indiepop intimista fatto di sola chitarra e voce femminile), Sauvie Island Moon Rocket Factory (“Old Salt”, registrato dal vivo) e, naturalmente, 99Cent Dream , ossia lo stesso Jamey Gray, con “Nominal friends”, elegante brano pop, intenso e agrodolce, dai contorni orchestrali.

Fanno da cornice al tutto una splendida copertina e un’originale press-release articolata, in armonia con il titolo della compilation, a mo’ di men�, all’interno del quale ciascuna delle canzoni contenute nel cd coincide come una portata e come tale viene simpaticamente presentata e descritta. Oh be’, ho parlato a sufficienza. Non so a voi, ma a me � venuta una gran fame. Accomodatevi con me a tavola e servitevi pure. Jamey � un bravissimo cuoco, ve lo garantisco. garantisco.”
****1/2

SPONIC review of “Teddy Bears Gone Bad” LP – John Wenzel, 2001
Ross Beach hails mostly from the South, and he certainly sounds like it. His bittersweet drawl is peppered with a certainMichael Stipe influence, but not to the point of distraction. Having been an important member of the Elephant Six collective during the formative years, and having had a good amount of success with his solo albums, he’s obviously got the chops to make some excellent music.

Teddy Bears Gone Bad sticks to Beach’s appealing mixture of indie-pop hooks and folky, male/female harmonies. “Leaving Before You Came” and “Frozen Together” exhibit both his incredible songwriting talent and unique pop sensibilities. The tension between Beach’s obvious love of Beach Boy’s-style pop and the sadness in his lyrics is delicious. He somehow manages to sound optimistic and fatalistic at the same time. If indie rock were ever in need of a sophisticated, genuine songwriter, now would be the time and Ross Beach would be the man.

Splendid E-zine review of “Teddy Bears Gone Bad” LP – Amy Leach, 2001
If David Byrne took any randomly-selected Elephant Six band under his wing, the result would probably sound a lot like Ross And The Hellpets. Head Hellpet Ross Beach is no stranger to Elephant Six formula, himself playing a significant role in their early years, but here he injects enough individuality to separate Ross and the Hellpets from the rest. There is a definite strangeness to Teddy Bears Gone Bad — even the title hints at that — but this is no novelty act. It’s quirky, no doubt, but there’s substance in the madness that Ross Beach and his cohorts create.

Backed by odd, B-52-esque vocals, “Sink Or Swim” opens the twenty-five minute disc and serves as a good indication of what to expect from the next ten tracks. Most of the songs here fall under the two minute mark, and in that short span of time you can look forward to simple melodies and strange but satisfying lyrical content.
Highlights include the harmony filled “Evil And Bad”, “The Pink House”, with a friendly tune and lyrics that threaten a jump from a “very tall building”, the rocking and somewhat bitter “For The Record” and the most melancholy of all the songs, the appropriately titled “You Make Me Tired”.

Beach, the consummate band hopper, has found in The Hellpets his nineteenth band formation. Yes, nineteen. Previous stints include Neutral Milk Hotel (circa 1994) and The Gerbils. This is usually the part where the reviewer says something along the lines of, “Beach finally found the winning formula and got it right!”, but that doesn’t apply here. The fact is, he’s rarely gotten it wrong, and Ross And The Hellpets are no exception. It’s amazing that time and again, Beach manages to surround himself with such talented bandmates. For those familiar with his previous efforts, Teddy Bears Gone Bad will be more than a gratifying listen, while newcomers will soon find themselves combing the record store stacks for Beach’s other material.

Rolling Stone review of the “I Like You” MP3 – Andrew Dansby, 2000
Rating: 8/10
This ninety second blast of wonderfully rough pop sounds a little like Guided By Voices were they fronted by David Byrne instead of a middle-aged hack. Fuzzy vox, fuzzy layers of guitar make for a fuzzy good time. This Louisiana native makes efficient pop with a melody substantial enough to remember after the song is long gone…a quality frequently absent in lo-fi.

Splendid E-zine review of “Ride Theory” LP – George Zahora, 1999
The long-awaited Ross Beach full-length is here (actually, it’s been here for a while, at the bottom of a stack of CDs that I’ve finally worked my way through — sorry, Chicken Ranch), and it’s worth the wait. Beach, who is sort of the Pete Best of the Elephant Six cadre (in the “wasn’t around to get his share of the acclaim” sense, not in the “got kicked out” sense), has served time in close to twenty bands, including indie-cred-establishing stints in Neutral Milk Hotel and the Gerbils. Luckily, the experience hasn’t left him churning out sub-par psychedelia; rather, his easy, likeable country-rock style distantly resembles early REM or a less self-absorbed Camper van Beethoven, and the inclusion of mandolin, harmonica, jews harp and violin adds a cheerily “down-home” air to the proceedings. Ross’ wry lyrical humor remains a staple, though his understated delivery and Ride Theory’s lack of an enclosed lyric sheet leaves this revelation largely in the hands of his song titles. And let’s be honest: how many of us couldn’t make room in our respective hearts for songs like “Acts of Extraterrestrial Vandalism”, “Love is for the Weak”, “Sideshow Wannabe” or even the jauntily ribald “Lucinda Console”, which isn’t about a font at all? Easily the most polished and pleasant Chicken Ranch release to date, Ride Theory is the perfect background for hours of happy slacking-off.

In Music We Trust review of “Ride Theory” LP – Alex Steininger, 1999
Baton Rouge-based singer/songwriter Ross Beach delivers twenty-five power-folk-pop cuts, recorded at his home studio, on Ride Theory . The album, with plenty of cuts to choose from, offers up material that ranges from addictively infectious to tired, with plenty in-between. But, the majority of the album finds Ross Beach and his backing band, the She-Devils, delivering solid pop.

“Chained Together” is a power-folk ditty that has country blood running through it. The hooks are there, the grooves are aplenty, and the rhythm keeps your toes tapping. Good solid pop music. “I Hate Everything” turns up the amps with plenty of fuzz and charged pop. “Birthday Party” delivers the goods with a down home folk jamboree.

The album has its up’s and down’s, like life. And with over an hour of music to choose from, there are surely one or two cuts you’ll enjoy, if not more. I’ll give it a C+.

Review of “Absolute Pleasure: A Tribute To Rocky Horror” – James Norman, 1998
I am not a completist and was not going to bother picking up the “Absolute Pleasure CD” because the idea of punk bands singing Rocky Horror did not jazz me. But Kevin Boycik’s table was next to mine at the Denver Con, and his girlfriend Stacey sings on the album. So that piqued my interest and I paid $10 for my copy.
Without offense to Kevin, Stacey, et. al… at least I’m not out too much. This album and I were not a fit.
In the case of six tracks, they should really consider burning the master tapes. My singing sucks, and I last was in band when I was 12, but even I could have made the grade against some of the singing/playing in “Dammit Janet”, “Sweet Transvestite”, “Charles Atlas Song” and its reprise, “Touch Me” and “Science Fiction Reprise”. Bad singing, bad playing, bad concepts, bad adaptations — it’s all here.

Another five tracks were sorta, kinda alright but flawed. “Over At The Frankenstein Place” from Stacey’s group had a really good alternate arrangement, and sounded very “Bangle”-ish. I *like* that. But they didn’t really sing too much and that was a drawback for me. Glad they included Brad’s verse though. “Time Warp” only gets points for some good guitar and trying to talk to the Rocky experience, though they altered the lyrics too much for my taste. “Hot Patuti”, spelled wrong on the album, had an unnecessary and uncomprehendable introduction combined with off-key choruses. “Eddie” had the same kind of slightly off-key problems in the chorus. Pity, as both tracks were otherwise really good. “The Floor Show” starts off well and gets worse with each verse until it’s nearly unlistenable when you hit Janet’s part.

There were four tracks, however, that made the album somewhat worth a listen. “Science Fiction” was wonderfully dreamy and udpated, and the best track on the album. But we had to wait until “Don’t Dream It, Be It” for the next really good track to appear. I wish that song moved this rapidly in the film, as it gives the orgy concept the necessary energy. “Wild and Untamed Thing” is something I always wanted to hear played this fast and this raw, and the “cruise-ship inspired” (?) “I’m Going Home” was quite a fun and unique listen.
Where’s “Superheroes” when you need it? Could you have imagined what a good punk band with heavy guitar could have done? Henry Rollins, where are you?

Kudos anyway to those bands that actually liked Rocky and put their love and energy into this. It’s not easy to put the talent on display and up for critique.

Review of “Tender Severity” LP:
Ignoring my advice, Ross recorded his fourth album in his Baton Rouge bedroom (in July, no less; hope he had A/C) and again played everything on here (bass, steel- and nylon-string guitars, percussion, organ, keys, mandolin and harmonica). Evidently it was the right decision because Tender Severity is his best yet. No great change in style–it’s still melancholy folk-rock with weird lyrics, a cross between Galaxy 500 and Robyn Hitchcock–but for his fans that’s probably a welcome non-development. Pick this up from the good folks at Chicken Ranch Records, POB 15922, Austin, TX 78715-1922
- Jim Santo’s Demo Universe – 1997

Ross Beach is simply, and honestly, weird. I salute him!
- Jim Santo’s Demo Universe – 1995

 Posted by Ross at 8:51 pm  Add comments

  One Response to “Record Reviews”

  1. Some of these reviews are positively ancient.

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