April 8, 2004

Test Spin: The Beauty Pill

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Yes, of course. Of course The Beauty Pill would include a recording of Mr. Rogers (that’s right, Mr. Rogers) proposing, “I think it’s time for some make-believe.” This occurs midway through their fiercely imaginative Unsustainable Lifestyle, and what follows is a cryptic tune whose lyrics comment on race, class, and community in a startlingly ironic way. “Won’t You Be Mine” muddles Mr. Rogers’s emblematically uncontroversial and inoffensive voice with The Beauty Pill’s own politics –which are direly cynical.

Halfway through the melodious but sullen track, a third voice enters, stating, “That is the rudest nigger I’ve ever seen in my life.” The implications are manifold, political and otherwise; but as the track closes and Mr. Rogers’s voice reemerges to ask “do you ever get angry?” two things about The Beauty Pill become clear: this band cares little for make-believe. And this band is brilliant. Their first full length release comes after two acclaimed EPs — The Cigarette Girl from the Future (1999) and You are Right to be Afraid (2003). The full length album was much awaited, partly due to the sheer quality of the EPs and partly due to their label’s longstanding reputation in the indie world. (Dischord produced Fugazi, Minor Threat, and Rites of Spring among others.) The debut exceeds all expectations: its post-punk sound is accordant and atmospheric. Rachel Burke and Chad Clark, former Smart Went Crazy lead-man, share vocals, making the album full and eclectic. There is an airy, fluttery, unobtrusive feel to the instrumentals, though they, too, range from hard and energetic to quietly smooth. The album is inventive, driven by its obscure but insightful lyrics: “It’s just another one of those countries where they come up and starve right in your face” or “Even a broken clock strikes twice a day” from “Mule on the Plane.” It’s no wonder Unsustainable Lifestyle took five years to make; it’s just that smart.

Archived article by Lynne Feeley
Red Letter Daze Contributor