Like covers of B-sides that never were
Nostalgia is a narcotic with an immediate up and a very slow and long comedown. It’s the drug of choice for the Melbourne-based musician, Michael Beach. In the wear-off, there’s the fleeting feeling of dear times past, a sensation he names in his fourth full-length LP, Dream Violence. The music itself is nostalgic, drawing from past styles but neither in tribute or pastiche. It’s done with sincerity and reverence but is also lined with a pervasive despondency that sometimes submits to the more impassioned songs in the rock’n’roll varieties that hope to shake it off.
Two of the tracks were released as singles, and they represent opposite poles of the artist’s emotional breadth. “De Facto Blues” comes on like The Dead Boys and The Stooges at once with muscular power chord shoves insisting on the same slogan dealt with conviction. It morphs into a choral three-chord progression that is triumphant but also wistful, and the whole song moves between brashness and victory. The other single, “You Found Me Out,” is a somber piano ballad evocative of Elton John, both sonically and in timbre. It’s one of those that gain confidence over time, the depression seemingly lifting but while not quite fully extricating the sadness that then lingers and weighs on it until it succumbs back down to where it started, sadder but with more pathos than before. “There were winners and losers kicking up a storm.” Nothing matters, sorrow is unpreventable and that is life. These two songs are the synecdoche of the record that displays an urge to overcome dejection—either by allowing and amplifying it in masochism or by trying to remedy it in catharsis.
The really sad, inconsolable mood is intervened only momentarily in small bouts. “Spring” has middle-era VU chords, bright and twinkling in a slow swing that pretty much sounds like a direct rip-off of “Heroin.” Even the bass drum brings it all up, everything becoming more vehement before its climactic wash. Or the drunken blues-rock of “Curtain Of Night” as if it’s being played as a barroom live performance, everything slightly and self-warily out of tune, smugly strumming on. But it descends right back down into a maudlin abyss, talking about impermanent things that he watches “disappear behind the curtain of night” where he finds himself wallowingly lonesome: “at the end of the day, it’s me and my shadow.”
Beach doesn’t remain there the whole time though. He gets tired of feeling blue and eventually wills himself out and into bitterness, employing deadpan speak-song amidst shrill electric guitar vagaries and delicate cymbal ticks in “You Know, Life Is Cheap.” Then the fat bassline-led and acoustic-backed goth melancholia of “Metaphysical Dice” typecasts Beach retrospectively longing in stadium wide vocal echoes.
The only anomalies are the instrumental tracks that sound markedly neutral. “The Tower” is a lyric-less interlude that appears early on in the record and is composed of only two electric guitar chords modulated by a thick echo and dimmed feedback. Appearing almost at the end, the penultimate title track contains a deep spaghetti-western baritone luxuriating in twang and reverb that, at times, plays unevenly and misshapenly as if riding on a one-take improvisation as another slogs in sweat behind it. The whole of it is hot, hallucinatory and entrancing, evoking an amber daguerreotype and dry heat.
Whatever Dream Violence conjures in its free-form space, it absolutely goes. Everything down to the minutest detail is succinct and effective but not in a way that’s self-proving–it’s au naturel. Whether he aims to tease out a tear or summon a swagger, Michael Beach brings all his ups and downs in more ways than one.