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Friday, 9 October 2009

Bedhead - 'Transaction de Novo' (Trance Syndicate)

Perfection comes at the end. Here's a CD I've listened to so many times that every chord change, every nanosecond of hesitation before each note is played, every barely audible vocal breath -- these things are all weighed down with a dense, emotional gravity to my ears. Maybe you'd just hear some slow-paced indie rock band doing what they do, nothing special. Ear of the beholder, I guess? The formula is the same yet there's miles of growth in this band, though that realisation might be hard for me to articulate. 'Exhume' opens up with a drumless, ringing patchwork of guitar and bass notes just like 'Beheaded', except the tone is more contemplative than dark. The lyrics alternate between barely-sung and extremely sung, by which I mean melodically intoned with a real sincerity. 'More than Ever' maybe exemplifies this - it's slow, open drum beat leaves room for the voice to ring along with the guitars, where every note is expertly chosen to fall alongside every space, also expertly chosen. The ringing notes are so powerful - on 'Parade', they're repetitive and trance-like, and they've been stuck in my head for literally a decade. Bubba Kadane sings on 'Half-thought' which is slightly more upbeat and bouncy, though I would never know it was a different singer were it not for the credits. 'Extramundane' is even more upbeat, a fast, slightly distorted tune that would have been a perfect pop single in another world. The lyrics are maybe a bit more upfront than before, and you can hear a confidence even as they sing about hesitation and uncertainty. Brilliant! The real rocker, and one of the most memorable songs in the Bedhead catalogue, would be 'Psychosomatica', which is the most cranked up they ever sounded. Instead of a warm glow, the Rat pedals come out for properly crunchy, angular riffs. There are pop hooks in all of these songs, but they are ironed out and subdued so you would never think of any of these songs as catchy - but maybe this makes their inevitable brain-burrowing more effective. A personal note: shortly after this album came out I jumped in a car with some friends and drove a few hours to a nearby city to see Bedhead live, in a small club I had been to before where there were maybe 50 people watching bemusedly. They were good, maybe even great, though it was 1998 and memory hasn't been kind. I remember they played 'The Rest of the Day' at the end of their set, which was like shooting their load kinda, but it was the end right? So then an encore is demanded and they come out and play the one song I was hoping to hear, 'The Present', which is the last track on this, Bedhead's last album. And any doubts about what my all time favorite Bedhead song was immediately were washed away. I can't say why this song is so great - there's no obvious riff of dramatic build, apart from some sort of organ or affected guitar that fills the middle zone unlike anything they ever used before. Maybe its the lyrics, which are I guess playing on words meaning both the current era and a gift; the gift of course is the music they left for us. I'm sure I'm not the only devoted fan who is still waving their torch a decade later (after going through personal journeys, taste changes, broadening horizons and self-reinventions a million times over). They broke up really soon afterwards, maybe a week or two, and immediately I regretted not savouring every second of that show. The drive back in the middle of the night was more memorable, with a $2 tape of Galaxie 500 'This Is Our Music' stuck in the tape player and playing over and over. Anyway, I saved the sticker that was on the shrinkwrap when I bought this CD in 1998, and it just fell out of the CD booklet. Great press quotes here: "Mesmerising ... melancholy and pure." (Melody Maker). "Restraint. Intelligence. Control... the effect is monumental." (Raygun). But it's not just restraint and intelligence - it's emotional and soulful and impressionistic, just with a carefully chosen palette. Live forever, Bedhead - not to discount that Macha EP or the New Year, but this is where it peaked and then you flamed out as you should have.

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