Every once in a while an album comes along that forever changes a
genre, elevating it to a new level, transcending the genre's previous
limits. P.M. Dawn, Tricky, Skold, Curve
all of these bands have taken their respective genres and broken the
rules, creating something distinct and amazing in the process. On
my first listen to Beast's debut album Beast, it is
evident that the Montreal-based duo has taken trip-hop to a new level,
incorporating hip-hop intensity, R'n'B/soul grooves, trip-hop atmosphere,
electronica instrumentation, and even a bit of gospel's beauty.
Beast is Betty Bonifassi on vocals and Jean-Phi Goncalves
performing all instruments, programming, and additional vocals. The
band's music runs the gamut from rougher hip-hop rhythms ("Devil")
to low-slung trip-hop grooves ("Arrow") and all the way
to Portishead-esque spy themed spooky, dark pop ("Ashtray").
Betty Bonifassi's vocals oftentimes reach a gritty earthiness reminiscent
of golden era jazz vocalists like Eartha Kitt, but with a tough
edginess that is more inline with modern music and hip-hop. The music
provided by Goncalves is very often reminiscent of the biting trip-hop
of early Tricky, filled with strong backbeats and eerie synths that
make more musical sense than the majority of modern pop. The vocals
and music intertwine wonderfully, each playing off the tension built
by the other to create something larger than either would be on its
own. Trashy drums and stark basslines are in abundance on Beast,
the songs have a power and sound that drives home the modern world
while the lyrics reflect on society and all its ills. "If the
sun vaporized one day/and the moon just faded away/would we still
keep going on/ at this speed of a maddening pace?" While much
of the music on Beast is tense and driving, there are moments of more
laid-back grooves, like on the ambling and beautiful "Dark Eyes",
a track that alternates between Bonifassi's beautiful chanteuse and
Goncalves rough-etched rhythmic rap.
Come to think of it, this album hearkens back to the glory days of
young electronica and the inimitable duo of Vince Clarke and
Allison Moyet when they were better known as Yazoo.
The same pioneering spirit and unique sound-building elements exist
in both duos, the same lyric inspiration and vocal intensity. Beast
should appeal to anyone in the mood for something new and driving,
yet intimate and somehow eerily familiar.
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