Beaten By Them: Signs of Life

If Signs of Life is an accurate portrait of the band, calling Beaten by Them a “classical-rock music” isn't entirely off-the-mark but it's an imperfect descriptor and one that's overly constrictive too. It would be more accurate to describe the group as a fluid instrumental rock quintet that occasionally suggests classical ties via Boima Tucker's cello contributions (certainly the funk-rock of “Verge” suggests how misleading the “classical-rock music” label is in this case). The quintet—Tucker, plus guitarist Andrew Harris, guitarist/keyboardist Max McCormick, bassist Lee Matheson, and drummer Ulf Bjorkbom—opts for a loose style that's situated halfway between formal composed writing (Harris and McCormick the principal writers) and improv, and there's clearly structure in place but not so much that it curtails the players' tendency to pursue their individual and collective muses when the impulse strikes.

How uncompromising is Signs of Life and by extension Beaten By Them? “Town Too Small” inaugurates the album in funereal mode with Tucker's cello taking the solo spot for three minutes with intermittent guitar strums the sole accompaniment. The music becomes briefly even more unhinged as hysterically laughing voices join in, after which the bassist and drummer make their aggressive presence felt and lead the raucous charge home (helped by a couple of gunshots at song's end). By track's end, the band's hand has been so confrontationally dealt, the listener's either on board—or not. Save for a couple of harder-edged moments, the languorous title track offers peaceful shelter from the storm in its delicate acoustic strums, synth atmospheres, picturesque horn punctuations, and cymbal shadings (all of the album's tracks are otherwise long-form explorations). The band's sweeter side comes to the fore during the opening half of “Yangtze” when the cello wraps itself longingly around gentle guitar playing but the second half's equally enthralling when the guitarist unleashes a brief firestorm. Only “Pioneer 10” misses the mark by being too much of a static, one-note jam that takes too long to develop and consequently fails to justify its nine-minute length. Beaten by Them maintains a steady, midtempo flow throughout “The Asiatic Capital Vista” until, that is, a snarling electric guitar break occurs (twice) at the song's center. The cello's late spotlight even adds a hint of country to the tune's otherwise heavy instrumental rock feel. It's here especially where one hears the confident yet relaxed sound of a band who recorded the material (at Melbourne 's Logicpole studio) after completing a mid-2007 West Coast tour of the United States .

October 2008