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Beat Mark - Howls of Joy

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Artist: Beat Mark

Album: Howls of Joy

Label: Ample Play

Review date: Feb. 22, 2013

Beat Mark makes echoey, fuzzily distorted guitar pop that will be instantly recognizable to anyone enamored of Crystal Stilts, first album Pains of Being Pure at Heart, early Raveonettes and The Fresh & Onlys. Their boy/girl vocals are drenched in reverb and super-charged with enthusiasm, reaching all-out euphoria a couple of times per song. The guitar is sharp, bright and chiming, though draped with hazy dissonance. It sounds like the happiest music ever to emerge from the bottom of a very deep well, a play of scratchy shadows and well illuminated, addictive hooks. The catch is that the band is French – and singing in English – lending a faint ESL strangeness to their exuberant choruses.

Beat Mark’s founders, Julien Perez and Gaëtan Didelot, met as children and have played for some time in a glossy synth-dance outfit called Adam Kesher (the name comes from a character in Mullholland Drive). For Beat Mark, however, they ditched the super-clean, Euro-disco jitteriness of Adam Kesher and explored a grittier set of influences. Swell Maps figured briefly in their early planning sessions, though you can’t hear much of it on Howls of Joy. You can hear their fascination with bands like The Pastels, The Vaselines and The Velvet Underground, however in the dirt-crusted romanticism of their churning songs.

One of Perez and Didelot’s first ideas was to add girls to the band, and so they brought in Chloe on drums and Perez’s girlfriend Karin, who, like her partner, sings and plays keys. Didelot plays guitar. There was a bass player named Sylvain involved at one point, but it looks like he’s gone missing. So, in any case, Beat Mark is the classic four-piece made somewhat less classic by doubling keyboards instead of guitars. The addition of two women also gives the band an interesting palette of sounds, which ranges from murmur’d Jesus and Mary Chain-style coolness to exhilarating Beach Boys-esque harmonies. “Breezing!,” the album’s first single has an especially Beach-Boys-dragged-through-the-sand quality, its emphatically joyful “Walk into the sun” chorus soaring out of a gritty mess of ragged guitars.

Howls of Joy is pretty much pure sensation, a total blast which leaves little room for cogitation. Where you do start thinking – to the album’s detriment usually – is when the lyrics turn perplexing. “Son Thomas Hunter” is one of the album’s best songs, musically speaking. It’s also a string of randomized English words. Elsewhere, phrasing is only slightly awkward, enough to let you know that this is a non-English speaking band long before you’ve checked the back story. What you’re hearing (good tunes) and how it makes you feel (pretty happy) is as accessible as a billboard, but there’s no percentage in looking behind it for additional insight.

And, honestly, that’s fine. Howls of Joy is exactly what it seems to be, an unpolished, unpremeditated gem of a guitar-pop album, one that clangs and pounds and soars. Who cares what it means, or whether it means anything at all?

By Jennifer Kelly

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