Beat Awfuls PAWS (art by Clint Colburn)
I’ve had PAWS, the third full-length recording by Beat Awfuls, on repeat all week. The album’s lo-fi power-pop makes me want to jump up and down one minute and burst into tears the next. Or more accurately, all the feelings are swirling together pretty damn cathartically as I lose myself in these nine songs on each listen. The pain of Dave Vicini’s lyrics is filtered through infectious jangly hooks, until dancing while weeping seems like a perfectly reasonable response to being alive. From the band: “PAWS is an acronym for ‘Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome,’ an affliction of the after-effects of substance misuse. While the title may pinpoint Vicini’s location during the recording process, it doesn’t bind him; this album isn’t a slow, dour reflection on drug addiction and abuse; it’s an earth-clawing grasp to regain ground.”
The album’s opening track, “Interstate Skeletons,” provides a perfect example of Beat Awful’s fuzzy pop poignance. Vicini provides both lead and backing vocals in tight harmonies on the song, singing: “I never knew what it costed / I only knew what it cost us / Feeling technicolor fade / As I bury it away like skeletons.” The mid-tempo bounces cheerfully underneath, with unexpected synths amidst the guitar hooks (skillfully played by Russell Lacy on lead guitar). The good feelings of the music itself sit in ironic tension with the emotional heaviness of the lyrics, and that enticing irony continues throughout PAWS.
“Punks on the Dance Floor,” once again, offers a hazy, invitingly danceable groove (with Kelly Queener really shining on this track on bass, and Tommy Allen plinking out a simple but catchy hook on keys). But the lyrics reveal the roiling destruction that’s threatening underneath the buzzed effervescence of the instruments: “I will turn into a twister / and blow apart our lovely life,” Vicini laments. Even as the song’s narrator bounces up and down in his Docs, “like punks on the dance floor,” deep down he knows he’s in trouble. The song ends abruptly with these words: “Lava lips always spill secrets / As warm low key wind whispers quietly / ‘I really need some help please.’”
Other standout tracks include the lovesick plea of “Espree Baby” and the high-energy “Ego Death Kult,” which points to the hypocrisy of all the shit-talkers out there, be they politicians or the guy sitting next to you at the bar. But my favorite song on PAWS is “Forever Lonely,” the most directly melancholic of the album. Kelly Queener provides gorgeous vocal harmonies to Vicini, with both of them pining away in the verses: “Gone / Forever lonely / I can’t give up / I can’t find a reason / to let you go.” But the chorus breaks through the sadness, with the drums picking up the mood (wonderfully played by Allison Apperson), and suddenly the guitars turn toward a major key for a moment and “Forever Lonely” becomes just a pure declaration of love for a breath.
Dave Vicini started Beat Awfuls in 2005 as a 4-track bedroom recording project while living in Boston. They are now based in Richmond, VA (after a few years in Lexington, KY), and recorded PAWS in Richmond and Mechanicsville, VA (produced and engineered by Vicini, except for “Forever Lonely,” produced and engineered by Russell Lacy). I sincerely hope that Beat Awfuls will be touring to NYC soon to promote PAWS. I’m excited to join the “punks on the dance floor” while quietly dying a little inside. It’s the human condition after all. Beat Awfuls, you have a new fan in Brooklyn! Come visit!
PAWS is out 2/10 via Cocoa Beach Tapes/Youth Kulture.