The first thing you should know about Handsomebeast’s upcoming album (aptly titled “The Badass Future”) is that it was not easy to make.
In point of fact, it was an absolute bitch to make for a number of reasons, some of which count as being relatively conventional in the industry, others are more unique to the band, so I’ll hold on to them until the time is right (meaning until I begin the process of writing a book chronicling their inevitable rise to fame).
But they finished is the thing — and stuck the landing on a front flip, at that. The record succeeds in being polished, dynamic, and genre defying all at the same time. It’s worth pointing out that last one is especially important when you consider how heavily the band emphasized creating something truly novel and not just new.
In light of that, I’d ask you not to be discouraged if you find yourself taken aback or disoriented after initial exposure to the more unorthodox tracks. I vividly remember seeing “Bill Murray” performed live prior to hearing the studio version, and sincerely not knowing what to make of the gritty space rock guitar riff and funky high pitched chorus other than knowing that I liked what was happening. Better to be stunned by the original than sedated by the unoriginal, right?
No less memorable was my first listen to the album’s first single, “Nevada“, which takes on the task of setting a tone for the record, one characterized by a brand of tongue-in-cheek lyricism making lead vocalist, Nick Serena, sound just like he’s singing to you while wearing a crooked smile and struggling to hold back tears. It begins with a mysteriously wandering melody, eventually building into a multi-stage sonic breakdown complemented by tasteful keys and backing vocals, the culmination of which proves to be my favorite part of the album.
There’s a feeling we’ve all experienced of meeting someone new and immediately knowing it’s right. My belief is the same thing can happen in music. Some songs are instantly irresistible and catchy, others require more work of you. And every so often, there are songs which, though strange or unfamiliar, still manage to be accessible, to captivate you; then, only minutes later, you’re wondering how you ever got along without listening to them every day.
Of course, all art is derivative, and music is certainly no exception. There will always be discernible elements of Red Hot Chili Peppers in the band’s foundation, likewise traces of Radiohead to be found in their more experimental endeavors. Every artist has definitive influences, but what comes to define them is the way in which they use those to influence others, i.e. how they manifest derivation into innovation.
And I am proud as hell to say these gentlemen have done so brilliantly. Having known them for some years now, I’ve had the privilege of watching them shape and grow as musicians and human beings. They’ve built a loyal following in their hometown of Houston, TX by garnering a reputation for singular style and magnetic stage presence. However, in this latest effort, it was critical they made progress in terms of evolving their fundamental sound — which, it must be said, clearly shows.
That is largely owing to and evidenced by their maiden collaboration with Paul Cox (owner of Studio 226 Recordings, where the album was produced), with whom the band found not only invaluable creative chemistry, but an exceptional friendship which vastly contributed to the record’s artistic vision. Simply put, good vibes make for good music.
Moreover, whereas historically Handsomebeast’s writing process consisted almost exclusively of organic, spontaneous jam sessions, The Badass Future saw an adoption of more premeditation in their approach. That might explain why the damned thing took almost two years to finish, but again, it appears to have paid off.
Because they sought to create a more composed, progressive sound, they also had to incorporate a wide array of new instruments and methods of songwriting. This also meant they had to make a conscious effort to avoid picking the low hanging fruit, to do more than just approach the known frontier — in fact, to move across it.
Which is what makes the album’s title such an apt one; it is both badass and futuristic. Opening with “Sweet James ’76”, a track as soulful as it is impossible not to get stuck in your head, they ease you into the layered musical trajectory. This deliberate choice in track listing, along with every other, was just as strategic as it is necessary.
Over the course of ten songs, they make use of everything from slide guitar to synthesizers, and a great deal more besides. Halfway through, “The Badass Future” keeps the momentum rolling with an unforgettable hook and steady progression in tempo, then leading into what is arguably the record’s prettiest and most beguiling chapter, “Inertia”, whose rich textures, electronic forays and psychedelic lyrics draw you in like a forbidden crush, never quite letting go.
This transition is stark in contrast and far from easy to pull off, yet they do, and it is at that point where I see Handsomebeast’s new musical identity really start to take shape — which is an identity critically defined by ambition, artistry, and an unshakable commitment to making music that others will want to listen to just as much as they do.
Beyond anything else, what this record intends to do is signify a turning point for the Beast, a next step — although I’ll take the liberty of speaking for the boys in saying that things like money and/or recognition would not be unwelcome byproducts. Let’s face it, theirs is not an easy gig, nor is music an easy industry to make it in.
Few (if any) are rising to rock star status the same way it was done in the 20th century, viz., with little more than a black leather jacket, an eight ball of cocaine and a false prayer. There is a great deal of work to be done if you are to get by in any medium of art, and a shitload more if you are to transcend the status quo in any such medium.
My relationship with the band means I know for a fact they aim to do precisely that, and won’t stop until making it happen. There’s a reason I started this by illustrating what a bitch The Badass Future was to make, and it’s because the work they put in merits acknowledgment, so I’ll finish by promising you that it’s worth the work of doing so. I know it was for me, and I think you’ll find it is, too.