Album Review | bEEdEEgEE impresses with experimental electronic music
Published: Friday, December 6, 2013
Updated: Friday, December 6, 2013 01:12
“At least to begin with, I would recommend closing our eyes.” With these opening lines, Brian DeGraw’s debut solo album, “SUM/ONE,” begins. Listeners should take DeGraw’s introductory suggestion to heart. Full of incredibly varied instrumentals and experimental, electronic sounds, the album requires some concentration. Right from the start, DeGraw prepares listeners for an adventure of noise and emotion — and the album certainly does not disappoint.
As the keyboardist of Manhattan-based group Gang Gang Dance (GGD), Degraw has had over a decade of experience in the experimental electronic genre, allowing him to perfect his ability to blend synthesized percussion with innovative vocals and melodies. “SUM/ONE” is DeGraw’s first album under his moniker bEEdEEgEE, a name derived from his initials. This LP comes during a GGD hiatus; the band is set to return in 2014.
Taking a break from the fast-paced city lifestyle, DeGraw recorded “SUM/ONE” in upstate New York. However, there is nothing rustic or natural about this album. Though it features dance-influenced beats, “SUM/ONE” tends to stick to the atmospheric, yet wide-ranging electronic sound that made GGD so successful. The main difference between the two stems from the creative process: While bEEdEEgEE’s music feels planned and organized, most of GGD’s pieces originated from jam sessions and collaboration.
Yet “SUM/ONE” does include collaboration with other artists, and it is these tracks that are the most satisfying and complete. While some numbers, such as the opener “Helium Anchor,” move awkwardly through swirling synth beats and piano chords and often seem unsure of where they stand, the album functions most effectively when DeGraw works together with other vocalists. “F.U.T.D. (Time of Waste)” is a house-infused seven-minute track of thudding club beats layered beneath the vocals of Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor. Though, at times, DeGraw’s music seems to mainly support Taylor’s repetitive “All I want to do is f*** up the day” lyric, DeGraw’s presence definitely strengthens the piece. This near-perfect track is a highlight of the album, despite its excessive length.
As it reaches its end, “SUM/ONE” proves that its head bobbing beats operate best when at their most dynamic. On “Flowers,” vocals from Lovefoxxx of Cansei de Ser Sexy work in tandem with emotional ’80s beats, creating a hint of desperation that sets the track apart from the rest of the album. More contemporary trap-inspired beats in “Bricks” tease listeners by avoiding complete measures as London grime-style percussion shuffles from thump to thump. One of the more distracting tracks on the album, “Bricks” is certainly not an ideal tune to play as background studying music.
A few slower, sunnier sounding tracks work to infuse the album with a more upbeat feel — the tone of “SUM/ONE” seems mostly uncertain, though it is more neutral than negative. The Caribbean percussion and buoyant synths of “Quantum Poet Riddim” will elate listeners, while GGD singer Lizzie Bougatsos’ varied vocals on “Like Rain Man” escalate slowly, culminating in a poignant, powerful conclusion. One wishes after hearing this second track that DeGraw had collaborated more frequently with his bandmates on this debut.
As the year comes to a close and blogs and magazines begin to release their best of 2013 lists, keep bEEdEEgEE’s “SUM/ONE” in mind. This eclectic and multi-layered album is sure to be a favorite of the year, and even those less interested in the genre definitely owe it a listen. One can only hope that DeGraw will bring some of the dynamism and dance beats present on “SUM/ONE” back to his band in the future.