I've been following The Beans (not to be confused with the Antipop Consortium member with the same name) now since their Tired Snow EP that came out several years ago. There were moments of brilliance on that short disc, and I knew that they were a band that had the potential to put things together in great ways. On their follow-up Crane Wars, they met some of those expectations, but still felt short with what I felt was still a bit too much noodling and an overall lack of focus. They've always been a band that is more about sound and texture than song, but unfocused is still unfocused.
When I heard that their new release was one long improvisation, I was both hesitant and excited. One of my favorite tracks that I'd ever heard from the group ("Alpaca Llama" from the aformentioned first EP) was a track that was largely live and improvised, but that was only a short song, and this new release was a full-length (almost 64 minutes to be exact). Now that I've heard the release, however, I'm won over. Although it's still not the grand statement I think the band is still capable of, it's a mesmerizing trip through spacey melodic atmospheres, featuring some amazing instrumental interplay.
The release is split into 7 segments, but it could be one long piece and it wouldn't make much of a difference. This is an album that's meant to be listened to from one end to the other, but "Moon" sets off things on solid footing, with dual guitars that slowly wind around one another while a piano builds from the subtle droning backdrop. Over the course of almost 12 minutes, the instruments play off one another wonderfully, both allowing individual parts to breath on their own, as well as blend with one another into gorgeous slow-building crescendos. On "Earth," the piano takes to the forefront, banging out progressive chords while keyboards quietly around it and an ocassional sound sample filters up to the forefront. Eventually, the guitars again snake back in, all the while the drums add steady but unglamorous underpinning to it all.
About halfway through "All Planets," everything drops off into a glacial drone while some world-weary vocals make their way into the dreamlike track. Individual piano keys ring out over a bed of faint droning keyboard and guitar plucks tickle quietly. "Sun" takes the earlier themes and builds them into something more solid, while "All Suns" brings some quiet electronics into the mix and builds into the loudest track on the disc over the course of an almost 20 minute run time. Although it still never reaches a real 'rock out' climax along the lines of a group like Godspeed You Black Emperor, the build and subsequent release is steady and sure and is just enough of a release to feel right.
From there, things wind down again, then build ever-so-slightly before drifting off into "All Worlds," the last track proper on the release. It's basically sleepytime by this time, as the background keyboard drone comes to the forefront and some reverbed guitar ebbs and flows against it like conflicting currents in the sea. The closing track of "Absolute" is the audience reaction to the performance, and the only time on the entire disc that you can even realize it's a live recording. While it may be a bit repetitive for some listeners, I find it a nice addition to the ambient/space rock genre. The cover art and song titles are a bit on the new agey side, but don't let it fool you. Something like a mix between Sonna and The Necks with a dollop of Ennio Morricone, The Beans have again won me over.