Beat Radio is a synth-influenced Americana outfit that’s had more lineup shuffles than Spinal Tap has had drummers. The moniker dates back before 2005 when five musicians came together to form the band. Fastforward to the present day and there are still five members, but the road in between was anything except smooth. Three original members departed for good, eventually replaced by Dan Bills (synths/keys), Evan Duby (lead guitar) and Brian Ver Straten (drums). Mike McCabe (bass) took a sabbatical around 2008 and, in the words of the remaining musician Brian Sendrowitz (vocals/guitar/casio), “…I found myself suddenly without a band- I spent the next year working on Safe Inside the Sound mostly on my own.”
The band, or ‘collective’ as Brian has taken to calling Beat Radio, had been whittled down to one (a ‘collective’ of one!). It takes no small amount of guts to hold onto your dreams in the face of loss and adversity, but struggle has always produced great art. Like a fire that rekindles from a single ember, so it was with Beat Radio. “I started collaborating with Dan Bills about halfway through [Safe Inside the Sound], and he ended up playing on the album and bringing a lot to it on keys and synths. When the album was finished this past fall we started playing out regularly again and the band grew slowly and organically.” By the end of 2009 Beat Radio was stronger than ever. “We’ve been playing as a 5-piece since December and it’s definitely the most fun and rewarding experience I’ve had playing in a band.” Credit: Gilbert Ng Nothing pulls a band together faster than good material. Safe Inside the Sound boasts an album’s worth of solid songs that run the pop gamut between alt-Americana and indietronica. The winsome melodies, dressed up in synth progressions and digibeats, will tempt the melancholy onto the dancefloor half the time (and have them weeping into their beer the other half). There is a Great Plains sadness here, a “seen them come, seen them go” folky sadness that points to the earlier songwriting of Sendrowitz: “Before Beat Radio, I’d done more acoustic based singer songwriter music.” With Safe Inside the Sound the compositions hewed away from freeform folk paeans, towards more tightly regimented pop structures. “The biggest change was writing songs to rhythm tracks. Before that, lots of my songs had a strummy, looser sort of feel — like Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. With Beat Radio songs, I’ve set out to make songs that were simpler, more like pop music, and hopefully more universal.” There is an inherent optimism in pop music that counters the more tragic tones of Beat Radio, resulting in a delicate dialectic between sadness and joy that speaks to the heart. Safe Inside the Sound sells the indietronica hard for the first three tracks of the album. Opener “Follow You Around” is particularly impressive. A chorus of quasi-industrial synth sounds paints a picture of quiet emotional devastation- the perfect backdrop for Sendrowitz’s heartbroken vocals- before exploding into a thunderous blitzkrieg of teeny-bopper transcendence and pitch-shifty solos. After t initial electronic flourish, Beat Radio starts to gradually foreground the guitar over and above the synths. “Stranger Flowers” is straightforward, strummed folkrock melancholia, albeit with digital beats. “Green Luxury Condo” drops the beat altogether in a reflective paean to the melody of “Amazing Grace.” It’s around this point in the album that you realize Beat Radio’s influences are less MGMT, more the folk and country greats of yore. So when you hear “Hard Times for Dreamers” towards the end, with its moseying guitar, dusky lyrics, and mandolin, you’re hardly taken by surprise. Most every track on Safe Inside the Sound could become your new favorite song. The real acid test of the album though is the singing of Brian Sendrowitz. He worships at the altar of some other polarizing vocalists: J Mascis, Neil Young, Daniel Johnston. Either you get his style, or you don’t, and that will make all the difference. The Ampeater Review finds Beat Radio at a particularly significant juncture in its development. The digital 7” includes of some of the first post Safe Inside the Sound material to be released, although tracing timelines with a collective can be deceiving. The B-side, “Lonely From Rock and Roll,” was actually co-written in 2003 by Sendrowitz and Timothy Lannen, who, along with Robert Haussmann, were both charter members of the very first incarnation of Beat Radio (both continue to play music as the Diggs). The title comes from a humorous lyric by the Tragically Hip, but the underlying motication is more melancholy. As Sendrowitz recalls, “It was towards the end of that band we were in, and believe it or not, it was kind of about the band breaking up. I always really liked the song, but it always felt unfinished. As a writer, I don’t ever really throw anything away. Songs are like your kids, you want to see them through, see them get recorded, performed, etc. I actually finished writing the song in early 2008 and recorded a demo. It was weird — the Beat Radio lineup from that time was sort of winding down, running its course, slowly breaking up. Maybe it was something about those emotions that reminded me of ‘03, and let me finish the song at that time. Working on the track over the last few weeks definitely brought me back to both of those times — kind of bittersweet memories. Do you know that Mercury Rev song ‘Holes’? There’s that great line: ‘Bands, those funny little plans, that never work quite right.’“
The A-side, “High Time” is the inspirational yin to the melancholy yang of “Lonely From Rock and Roll.” Sendrowitz describes his writing process for the single: “…I like the idea of trying to write a really simple song that can be useful to people and maybe inspire them in a direct sort of way. So many songs we hear these days are cloaked in multiple levels of irony. When you’re trying to write something that is universal, you sort of have to let go of the fear of being cliché. My wife Liz inspired this song pretty directly— there’s a line in it that says ‘there’s nothing for you going upstream.’ That’s something we’ve been trying to practice. You have to be open to let life happen— when you’re struggling really hard, swimming against the tide, you may be going in the wrong direction.” The narrator ruminates on “facing your fate” , a terrifying prospect for all of us. But the redemptive power of love and beauty means that none of us have to face that fate alone.
Since Safe Inside the Sound Beat Radio has tweaked their record release strategy in a move that is partly pragmatic and partly reflective of their personality. The band’s goal for 2010 is to finish and release two songs every month, thereby skirting the album format. “Most of [the songs] will come out via our Bandcamp page…[the Ampeater digital 7” is] an exception, because this Ampeater piece is a special occasion!” In the new digital landscape where an album can circulate around the internet in less than a day’s worth of pop-and-fizzle, releasing tracks a couple at a time allows a relationship to form between artist and audience. “I don’t know if singles will become dominant over albums, but as an artist, it has been kind of refreshing…Having something to share with people on a consistent and regular basis makes sense, and is really rewarding, because we’re in direct contact with our audience.” That’s a welcome approach to new media in a time when most bands use social networks as one-way megaphones to PR-indoctrinate their fanbase. So look them up on their Bandcamp site, say hi on Twitter (@wearebeatradio), and keep an eye out for more singles in 2010.
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem090/01 High Time.mp3
Lonely From Rock and Roll
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem090/02 Lonely From Rock and Roll.mp3