The Fucked Up Beat
Apparatus for Controlling the Mechanism of Floating Vessels
Review by Kent Manthie
A strange thing happened today – I was just going through the music on my music library when I happened upon an album that I’ve had for a time now, but, with the ton of other stuff I have as well, I’ve never gotten around to listening to it. But I can say that about a lot of the CDs I have on there – stuff I’ve gotten from labels or artists, things I’ve downloaded from the internet, or even CDs I checked out from the library and haven’t ever gone through.
This particular one sort of just caught my eye, for some reason, I can’t articulate it, but it was just a-grabbing at me – maybe it was the interesting artwork on the cover, maybe it was the name of the CD, or a combination of all of the things about it.
The band is The Fucked Up Beat, a self-described “Noir Trip-Hop” sound project by New Yorker Eddie Palmer and San Diegan Brett Zehner. The album’s title is Apparatus for Controlling the Mechanism of Vessels. At first, before I even hit the play button, I thought it was going to be one of those typical machine tool, noise and drone experiments, so I sort of braced myself for some angry beats and buzzing, crackling and crashing. Instead, though, I got a real surprise, for it was nothing like that at all. This is a beautiful album. The bulk of the tunes are made up of a piano – a regular acoustic piano, but one that’s been, as they say, “treated” or “prepared” – meaning it’s been worked over some to jibe with an electro-ambient atmosphere. That and the occasional far-off sounding drum, which in places, sounds like a basketball being dribbled across a gymnasium floor. If you want something to compare it to – especially the intricate piano musings, think of some of the more nightmarish, but quite muted, tunes by Nine Inch Nails – like say, the very end notes to “Closer” – when it’s just finishing and all the noise and pomp die off and you’re left with nothing but those closing notes played on the piano. It’s kind of like that – or to go further, think of the more mature Trent Reznor, when he did that double CD, Ghosts with Atticus Ross, with whom he also did the score for that film that was a transparently fictional biopic of Facebook founder Zuckerberg, The Social Network. I was stunned when it won all that critical praise (and didn’t it win some Oscar for something? I think the score might’ve one for Best Score, but I thought it might’ve won like Best Screenplay or Best Picture, which would’ve really blown me away, since, even though I’ve not seen it, doesn’t seem like that deep a picture. But that’s the Academy for you.
Anyway, getting back to the album in question: every song on this CD is a pure pleasure to the senses. It is mostly just that piano; here and there are a few ambient samples: street noises, a far-off voice, saying something that’s too far away to be understood, and the muted beat that pops up on a couple tunes. It’s for the times when you are stressed or wound up to tightly and need a come down. This will put your brain in a nice, warm place; a soothing, relaxing chill-out that is, on the same level, just slightly ominous, vaguely menacing, but never comes to anything. The opener, “Apparatus of Control” sets the mood for the rest of the album. If you’ve not heard this before or aren’t familiar with The Fucked Up Beat, you might not know what to expect. So you continue on, expecting, at some point to be pounded, figuratively, with a hammer, sonically speaking, but that never comes to fruition. After the first track, it goes into “Trapdoor to Escape Floods”, “Biorhythm (a Love Letter for Anonymous)” and other songs that all have a single thread they follow – not that it’s all the same or one long take on the same exact thing, but in a way, it does bear resemblance to a sort of conceptual framework that keeps on in the same musical structure.
What really juxtaposes the album are the song titles to the music therein: for example, further into the album, a few more song titles include “A Good Day for Raising Ships”, “Disaster Porn: The Nihilist Myth of Collapse” and “The Slow Death of Irony”, which is a song title that is fitting to this difference between the hardcore-sounding song titles and the soft, pure melodies from which they emanate. The closing track on Apparatus for Controlling the Mechanism of Floating Vessels is called “Come Back to New Orleans”, a sort of good-bye song, in which the message is a plea for a close one to return to a special place.
Well, that pretty much sums up Apparatus… I know it’s not a brand new release, having come out in 2012, but I’d bet that it’s still not a household name and I’d love to make it one. It’s calming, soothing effect is even reminiscent of classical piano sonatas from back in the day, maybe think Debussy or Satie or Penderecki, the latter of which, though, indeed was an experimental source of new sounds and early Avant-Garde.
I’m just glad to be able to introduce you to such a mesmerizing soundscape that lacks a tight grounding and instead just sort of floats around, its meandering piano, emitting a faint light that doesn’t flicker. Hope you enjoy. Oh, and to find out more about this happening project, along with a few other like-minded works, check ’em out at Bandcamp. In fact, you can go straight to The Fucked Up Beat’s page by typing in the URL: www.thefuckedupbeat.bandcamp.com which will bring you right to the page where this album is available for download at the inexpensive price of $5.00. Also available through that page are a few of The Fucked Up Beat’s previous CDs, including A Bomb Shelter in Kansas, The Situationists, Hunting a Schizophrenic Wolf among others. In fact, the previous three I just mentioned are actually newer than the one being reviewed here. But, I’d say, that, for the uninitiated, Apparatus… is a good place as any to start. Pleasant dreams and happy listening! -KM.