The Beatnik Filmstars have the poor luck to have been born around the time Guided By Voices experience a fruitful, early nineties adolescence. They’re mostly the result of songwriter Andrew Jarrett’s manic outpouring of material — a regular Beatnik Filmstars album includes around 20 songs, most hovering near the 2.5 minute mark, each different in wild ways but sticking to guitar-based hooliganism with pop forms. Most songs sport feedback that seems intentionally placed to piss off the casual listener. Imagine Robert Pollard, all of his DNA intact, but born in Bristol rather than Ohio, and instead of a songwriting style influenced by late sixties pop, he’s obsessed with lo-fi, scuzzed-up interpretations of British underground rock of the eighties, from the Fall to My Bloody Valentine to the Vaselines. With smarty-pants lyrics you might never understand. And he has a better drummer.
Summing up their career might be tough, because it’s still in process, unlike GBV and Pavement. Also unlike GBV and Pavement, the quality of their output has improved with age. Pavement surprised me with “Brighten the Corners,” how it grew on me quickly and for good, but wow, they should have hung it up before the neurasthenic “Terror Twilight” dropped. New category for a rainy day: Pre-breakup albums that should never have happened.
I own their first LP, 1991’s Maharishi, and I can’t say it’s been glued to my turntable; it doesn’t sound like they’d decided upon their own artistic territory yet, but it has its moments. 1993’s Laid Back and English can be a tough listen, lo-fi or not, as songs meander, but two or three tracks get the goose bumps going. Astronaut House in 1994 approaches bulls-eye, with the wonderful Fall-esque single “Slag Dogs/Disco Dogs” as the the highlight. Wait for the searing, middle-finger feedback riff that interrupts halfway through.
1995’s Beezer is where the real quality explosion begins, along with one blogger’s dilemma of what tracks to post, because so many satisfy. In 1997 the Beatniks release both Phase 3 and In Hospitable, the later on Merge, and both are solid records. I don’t have 1998’s Boss Disque, and I don’t have their recent return, 2005’s In Great Shape, because it’s on 555 records out of Arizona and Itunes would rather I be able to download Pearl Joke’s latest album of music that smells like dead dog, if music could smell.
Sometimes Pavement comparisons feel apt, as on this track, “Albert Truman’s Last XXmas,” from Beezer. From the same album, “50/50 Spilt” might refer, by title, to its obvious combo of My Bloody Valentine and GBV wherein a singles-era MBV whizz of feedback and cymbals batters a syrupy chorus hook.
For In Hospitable, Jarrett simply jettisons any idea of originality and apes Pollard completely. But he’s just as good as Pollard, which makes his affectation of Pollard’s accent all the weirder — or funnier, if you take the album as satire. “Look Up and Be Amazed” is GBV ventriloquism, and down to its title “Now I’m a Millionaire” could be a Bee Thousand outtake. “My Incident Free Life” is … well, just here because I frikkin’ like it, hombre. And I say hombre because women don’t go to Beatnik Filmstar concerts. Total sausage parties.
From Phase 3 I could offer the first two tracks, both fantastic pop songs, but I won’t, because that’s how I roll, and I’d rather show you the Beatnik Filmstars’ versatility with these two nuggets: “Seventies Flick” is straight channeling of the Fall, while minutes later the following track, “I Won’t Wait” is lo-fi indie pop heaven.
And yeah, I embedded the tracks in the text so you might read a sentence or two. It’s my price.