Under the Radar Magazine
Containing six rich and complex tracks that leave the listener feeling like they've just stumbled out of some otherworldly excursion, Flaxen is the fifth outing for this evocatively haunting Santa Cruz shoegazing outfit. Opening track, "The Automatic", sounds like a long drive down a mountain road; it is full of twists, turns and lots of great ambience. A majority of this record revolves around a "beach" theme, with tracks 3 and 5 respectively entitled, "Omaha Beach" and "Utah Beach". (Do those places even have beaches?) These songs evoke a misty cold darkness, thunderous waves crashing, accompanied by the distant cry of seagulls. Any band that can do all that with only a bass, guitar and drums definitely deserves some recognition and respect. -Rita Neyter
The terms “lush” and “atmospheric” are over used expressions in the world of music journalism. However, there are really few other turns of phrase that adequately describe the music of Santa Cruz, California’s Bethany Curve. With their typically ethereal and dreamy, reverb heavy style, BC’s latest release Flaxen, is a beautifully dissonant collection of songs that capture the essence of the band’s motto: “atmosphere, arrangement, sound, layering, noise.” This axiom, however, while certainly adequate, leaves out one key element of Bethany Curve’s music, and that is movement, an attribute that is especially present on Flaxen. Each track on Flaxen suggests sensuous and fluid motion, without the benefit of synthesizers or stringed instruments other than Nathan Guevara and Richard Millang’s guitar accompanied by Daved Lockhart’s bass. Indeed, it is this ability to create soaring and sweeping guitar driven music that separates Bethany Curve from others in the shoegaze tradition in which they clearly feel at home. While certainly comfortable among bands such as Slowdive, Flying Saucer Attack, The Curve and My Bloody Valentine, Bethany Curve is carving out their own niche in the genre by creating deceptively orchestral compositions that defy traditional expectations of guitar driven music. If there is one weakness in this release it could be said that the flow between tracks is so seamless that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish where one begins and another leaves off, but personally, I find this to be part of Bethany Curve’s strength as a band. Obviously, this is a band that has found their sound, and is not afraid to place their unique musical signature on each track. To be sure, this is a solid and consistent release in which each track represents a fluid drop in the ocean that is Bethany Curve. - JENNIFER JONES
I have been listening to Bethany Curve for several years now. In fact, I have reviewed two of their previous albums, 1998's Gold and 2001's You Brought Us Here, both of which were good albums that seemed to tread a border between goth and shoegazer.
Flaxen is their fifth album (although i am loathe to call a release of merely 26 minutes an "album"), and I think it might be the best thing they have released to date. I mean that as a serious compliment, coming from somebody who really liked their album Gold. Still, both Gold and You Brought Us Here had a certain sameness to them, as if in each of the intervening three years, the band had not really grown or added to their sound. That was somewhat disappointing, but really, both of those albums were fine.
Flaxen, on the other hand, is an album produced by a band that has changed and matured in the three years since their previous release. In music, maturity tends to mean "playing slowly" and, indeed, this is a slower-paced release than their previous ones. It is also, i have found, far more complex, and richly rewarding.
Bethany Curve have always played their guitars through loads of effects pedals, creating a wall of distorted sound. All good and well, but even though i can listen to that sort of thing all day, i know that other people get bored with it. In contrast, the guitars here seem fuller, more complete, and more experimental. Part of it is the lineup changes the band has been through. Basically, vocalist/guitarist Richard Millang and drummer David MacWha are the only common elements across all of their albums. Since You Brought Us Here the band has lost long-standing guitarist Ray Lake and added both a new guitarist, Nathan Guevara, and an actual bassist (previously they were a three guitar band) by the name of Daved Lockhart. I think that this explains the increased depth of their sound.
Another change is in the drumming of David MacWha. Although he is the only drummer they have ever had, his work on this disc sounds very different. It is subtle and understated, but not muted or insignificant. It really sounds to me like Mr. MacWha has spent some time studying the drumming techniques of the West Coast Cool Jazz movement of the 60's. Perhaps he has, or perhaps it is just a sonic coincidence. Either way i find that i really enjoy his drum work on this album.
But enough overall comments. Let me examine each of the six songs on Flaxen.
The album starts out with a light trill of echoed guitar and MacWha tapping the high-hat calmly. The song is called Automatic and, after a minute or so, Millang's voice comes in, buried in the mix and only half-heard. This part of the song is very Slowdive-ish. However, after another three minutes, the music fades out fully, and the song is reborn more forcefully with insistent drumming and loud guitar echo. Disaffected (still distant, but clearer now) vocals reminiscent of early Chameleons come in. This is very nice, but i am unclear as to why this is "the same song". It might be the same track number, but it seems like there are two entirely different songs here. Whatever.
Automatic fades into Jettison, which features e-bowed guitar and a general guitar haze that moves along very slowly. This is a nice little poppy tune, with a toe-tapping drumbeat carrying it along it's languid pace.
Up next is Omaha Beach, which is a short interlude of droning ambience. It's kind of eerie, but mostly just pleasant. Bethany Curve do this sort of ambient music very well for a bunch of guys with guitars. Normally i would expect this type of stuff to be produced by some guy with a laptop. So this difference makes the tune interesting and well done.
The next tune is more energetic. Ironically it is called Sleep, and it features another wonderfully toe-tapping rhythm with lovely guitar work that just chimes and echoes. The guitarwork just builds and builds, and MacWha plays his cool jazziest rhythms. Also, Lockhart's basswork really shines here. I think this is my favorite tune on the disc.
The next track, The Means, comes in with fuzzy overdriven guitar and strong vocals. This song, in all honesty, sounds like a lost Verve classic, and i do not use that comparison lightly. It really reminds me of A Storm In Heaven. This is not to say that it is derivative in any way, but rather i simply mean that the way the guitars grind and fuzz, combined with the half-heard vocals, calls to mind that classic album. However, when the chorus hits, and Millang and Guevara stomp on their overdrive pedals, the song becomes a transcendent wall of noise. Every time i listen to this one, i stop whatever i am doing in order to fully listen to the chorus, and i think "I bet this song utterly rules in concert".
After the guitar fury, it is back to an instrumental with Utah Beach. This is a bit of dark ambience to end the album on a moody note. However, this time MacWha's drumming has been looped and slightly scuffed. Eventually, this is joined by a trilling guitar riff, and then the song and the album just fades out...
And i am left wanting more, which is a good thing for an album to do. Bethany Curve manage to pack a lot of depth into a mere 26 minutes, and i am quite impressed. Their sound has grown and become much deeper since i last heard from them. Now i am really looking forward to their next release. Unfortunately, on their schedule that will be in 2006 or 2007.
Still, this is a masterful release, and fans of distorted guitar work, shoegazing, dreampop, and/or atmospheric music need to track down a copy of this. Really.
The Big Takeover
It's amazing what you can accomplish with a lot of effects pedals and a good studio these days. This dreampop band starts with a basic guitar-bass-drum approach, and from that creates a massively dense, multi-layered wall of sound. The expansive, otherworldly guitars don't knock you over so much as they wash over you, like they were recorded underwater using ultra-sensitive sonar equipment. "Omaha Beach" furthers this notion by evoking sounds of crashing waves, squawking seagulls, and distant boat whistles. Whenever Richard Millang adds his dreamlike, soaring vocals, the band brings to mind Slowdive, though Bethany Curve are more interested in moody, atmospheric soundscapes than penning catchy melodies. This six-song mini-LP is perfect music to fall asleep to, or as headphone music for a particularly stressful day.
Atmosphere, arrangement, sound, and layering, everything is in its right place, literally! Flaxen, Bethany Curve's 5th release continues where their previous album, 2001's 'You Brought Us Here' left off. Recording and producing the album themselves, resulted in a lush, more melodically arranged sound that is more accessible than its predecessor. Flaxen is Bethany Curve at their finest, crafting great songs with a hint of experimentation. Flaxen still embraces BC's over-processed sound that smothers You Brought Us Here, but it ends up in a more ambitious place.
Highlights on the EP are songs like the Disintegration-ish 'Sleep,' the Lynch-esque 'Jettison' and the ambient 'Omaha Beach.' Flaxen is a must have and make sure to catch Bethany Curve in action next time they play at Violaine in L.A.
- Raymond Figueroa, April 25th, 2004
Dead Angel - Issue 63
Beautiful, beautiful sheets of drone that unfold in lush ambient fashion over minimal beats, billowing on clouds of reverb. On their fifth album, the band employs drums, bass, two guitars, and vocals to fashion immense and vast panoramas of rich ambient sound and tasteful drums. Some songs are dreamier than others (like the opening track, "The Automatic" -- which picks up the pace later with the addition of technoish beats halfway through), while songs like "Jettison" form swirling, droning layers of sound over which vocals float like sunlight streaming through the clouds. Even with commanding beats, "Sleep" layers on such thick sheets of drone that you'll find yourself starting to nod off even before the enormous vocals and keyboards begin to smother you into submission. One of the catchier songs is "The Means," anchored by a throbbing bassline, but all of the songs are exceptionally listenable. Their blurry wall-of-reverb sound is reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine, but the songs themselves are far less static (inventive shifts in dynamics and unexpected arrangements are a hallmark of their sound) and their intentions far less abrasive. Brooding, beautiful drone mantras waiting for your ears. -RFK
Bethany Curve have developed a unique sound over the years. Flaxen further explores a rich tapestry of sound through immense, atmospheric washes of guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. It's a dreamlike effect with giant range from soothing brilliance to powerful dynamics that will thoroughly envelope you in their new worlds of music. Reviewed by Bryan Baker 3/15/2004
My first exposure to Bethany Curve's expansive sound came several years ago when I heard their debut album, 1996's Skies A Crossed Sky (Unit Circle Rekkids). But even on their debut, it was apparent that the band was more than capable of creating massive drifts of dense, melancholy sound, akin to Slowdive meets The Cure's Disintegration. However, the band sort of fell off my radar until just a few weeks ago, when I heard a clip from their latest, Flaxen.
Taken from the album's opening track, "The Automatic", the clip revealed a slowly-spiralling column of sound, full of glacial, Labradford-esque guitar tones. I checked out a few more clips from the band's website and promptly ordered the CD, which has rarely left my CD player for any significant amount of time since the disc arrived last week.
Clocking in at just over 26 minutes, the 6 songs on Flaxen represent some of the finest shoegazer/dreampop I've heard in God knows how long. The disc literally overflows with effects-laden guitar-based atmospherics that are the very dictionary definition of "ethereal", "angelic", and a whole slew of adjectives that I use far too often on this site. And somewhere far below the guitars are Richard Millang's reverbed vocals, barely discernable from the heights to which the band's atmospherics take you, and yet still adding a noticeably melancholy tinge to the proceedings.
The EP slowly coalesces with the aforementioned "The Automatic", which glides on a solemn note before the drums really kick in and guitars grow more insistent and driving, building up to a cascade that should leave any fan of Slowdive's Just For A Day absolutely giddy. The fluttering guitars of "Jettison", anchored by an achingly graceful bassline, create a heady atmosphere that summons every shoegazer cliche - and injects them with new life.
One of two instrumental tracks that dot the EP's horizon, "Omaha Beach" eschews any song structure whatsoever, and instead dives headfirst into the band's tidal atmospherics. Guitars can be heard chiming faintly in the distance, only to be obscured by clouds of pure drift that resemble Hilmar Orn Hilarmsson's splendid Children Of Nature soundtrack in both tone and sound. "Sleep" again hearkens back to the glory days of Slowdive et al, with graceful guitar filigrees that manage to pierce the band's rainy atmospherics the way sunlight might pierce a stormcloud, with delicate shafts of silver gleaming through.
Each and every song on Flaxen is a keeper, but when taken altogether, they make for spellbinding listen. This is one of those discs that leaves me torn. Part of me wants to listen to it sparingly, lest it somehow lose its magic, and yet another part of me wants to wrap myself in these sounds as much as possible. That being said, I succumb to the latter far more often than not - and the album has yet to lose any of its lustre.
Reviewed By Jason Morehead