Gonna refrain from mentioning that Mountains + Valleys is originally a cassette release, out of the fear that would suggest a fringe-skating metal or noise workout (though maybe that’s just my own format-bias at play, so please, ignore me). Rather, Mountains + Valleys is an accomplished EP-length release that slides between stylistically varied but expertly crafted songs and short, evocative guitar instrumentals.
Michael Beach, previously unknown to me (cassettes—including an Ecstatic Yod tape in 2008—and limited-edition Aussie singles sketch out a low-profile, if steady, series of releases), is from either San Francisco or Melbourne, Australia, and seems to split his time and musical endeavors between the two. This tape (I mean, CD-r, I mean…what’s in a format these days, anyway?) opens with “Straight Spines,” a firm, sparkling indie-rock romp that builds a hook out of occasional tempo changes inserted into each verse, the surging riffs and gritted-teeth vox recalling early-’90s bands like Versus or even New Radiant Storm King (at their best). Somewhat oddly, the three other songs here all turn toward what could be described/damned as “Americana,” but Beach’s songcraft stands out: “There Is No Edge of the World to Run To,” aside from that swell title, is the kind of song Fleet Foxes (as just one middling example) would love to write someday, a beery waltz that holds you up even while Beach’s downcast lyrics suggest that crumpling to the ground would be understandable. Between the four “proper” songs, Beach serves up short guitar sculptures, each—especially the dense, bracing “Central San Joaquin”—proving his quality and versatility. The questions left are just: How is a guy this good and polished not yet snatched up by a good indie label?, and, how will I find the space—physical, mental, temporal—to start paying attention to cassettes again? [Tacu Tacu]
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