Beams [Enhanced CD]

by: The Presets

The Presets' first full-length record differs slightly from their more happy-go-lucky Aussie dance compatriots, mostly for aesthetic reasons. The detached nature of Beams is more about subtle darkness and underlying sinister intentions, as evidenced on the slow-building opener, "Steamworks" -- which begins with the bassline from "Billie Jean" and moves into much more explosive sonic territory (and a rave horn for good measure). Beams represents a uneasy yet unforgettable combination of '80s gaudy pop flair and dark, propulsive rave beats, all with an unsubtle sense of humor. Borrowing nothing from their timid Blow Up EP (most of the songs from that release have been since adapted in live shows to sound more similar to Beams), the Presets have an impulsive, almost primitive charm to their dance music. With heavy bass throughout, keyboardist/vocalist Julian Hamilton experiments with heavy distortion and vocal alterations. On the wild electro-pop treat "Down Down Down," the group keeps to the song's namesake and effortlessly weaves in and out of looped tambourine percussion and dirty synth beats. The middle section is surprisingly experimental given the concise pop of "Are You the One?," "Down Down Down," and the minimalist, winsome cool of "The Girl and the Sea" (it's the only time Hamilton shows some true restraint in his singing, and it gives the song a mysterious edge throughout). "Worms" plods along to a wince-inducing squelching keyboard loop and doesn't feel like anything more than an unrealized experiment. "Kitty in the Middle" contains more hyper-sexual lyrics and whip sounds, and is saved by its simple and funky bassline. The best moment on the latter half is the rave-inspired sped-up/slow-down shifting on "I Go Hard, I Go Home," benefiting from the same wobbly vocal effect used on Tommy James & the Shondelles' "Crimson and Clover." Either heralded for its effectiveness or denigrated for its stupidity, the double-entendre heavy sexual lyrics sung by Hamilton would be a distraction if not for his ability to blend his call-and-answer shouting with the music so surreptitiously. Despite the darker tone, Beams is still a dance album at heart -- and a carnal one at that -- thereby making his mechanical yelping the ideal background noise. ~ Erik Leijon

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