Release Date: Apr 30, 2013
Record label: Ghostly International
Genre(s): Electronic, Downtempo, Indie Electronic, Synth Pop
Like Junior Boys and the more experimental Telefon Tel Aviv just before them, Beacon have the shape and look of a post-punk synth pop duo like Soft Cell, Associates, and Eurythmics, and are part of that lineage while unmistakably inspired by contemporary R&B. The first EP from Brooklyn dwellers Thomas Mullarney III and Jacob Gossett, released in 2011 on the Ghostly International-affiliated Moodgadget label, even sampled a certain hit R&B single from 1997. With a 2012 EP on Ghostly proper also in the distance, they take a few steps forward with their first album, a subtle and richly detailed set of ballads that ache in a way that is seductive rather than despondent.
Last year, when Beacon released a pair of EPs, many critics were ready to write them off as the latest in the bubbling sea of hipster R&B clones. But on their first full-length, The Ways We Separate, the Brooklyn, NY duo have demonstrated a notable amount of stylistic (and artistic) growth. Still sounding stunningly similar to shit-hot Canadian/Danish duo Rhye (both have male vocalists who sound remarkably similar to Sade), Beacon have absorbed this of-the-moment genre wholly into their art, leaving the listener with ten songs that feel naturally more definitive and classic.
There’s no shortage of talented vocalists and songwriters tinkering with the DNA of R&B these days; from the zeitgeisty mainstream and critical appeal of Frank Ocean and Miguel, to the avant-minimalist soul and dance music of AlunaGeorge, How to Dress Well, and Rhye, the thematic standards and compositional tropes of R&B are providing a healthy hotbed for experimentation. Over their short existence, Brooklyn-based duo Beacon-- comprised of vocalist and producer Thomas Mullarney and producer Jacob Gossett-- have staked out their own corner R&B by imbuing pristinely constructed, slow-burning ballads with the murky, bass-blaring darkness of trip-hop and Warp Records' output ca. the early 1990s.
“I can saw a woman in two,” Warren Zevon sings on his 2000 comeback LP Life’ll Kill Ya. Lest you think him a magician, he qualifies his skill a second later: “But you won’t want to look in the box when I’m through.” Zevon’s sardonic words have found a new—and gender-reversed—life in the stark sleeve art of the debut LP by the Brooklyn-based duo Beacon, The Ways We Separate. It’s a chilly and removed thing; the stoicism with which both parties embrace the saw digging into the box suggests that the woman isn’t just now separating the man—the divide has already happened.
Believe it or not, there was once a time where I would have considered The Ways We Separate, the debut full-length from electro-pop duo Beacon, to be club music. Way back when, my brother and I would listen to dreamy progressive house producers like Kaskade on our way to school thinking the atmosphere and romance in tracks like Move for Me (Another Night Out) and I Remember was what got bodies moving on the dance floor. This was, however, shortly before the “bro-step” craze swept the nation, and my first actual experience in the club inevitably proved me wrong as bass drop after bass drop rang in my ears.
How slick is too slick? For Thomas Mullarney III and Jacob Gossett, two Brooklyn art students who teamed up to make music as Beacon, questions of love and loss are best tackled under a dark sheen. The outfit’s debut LP The Ways We Separate simmers as bedroom music for troubled couples, grouping R&B and dance music together into a smoky pop hybrid. As sleek as The Ways We Separate may be, it wants for adrenaline.
There is a certain creativity inherent in expectations. Expectations give one a rubric for their future, and in the case of artists, expectations can act as a guiding principle for the creative process. When an artist pictures or in some way imagines the completed piece before setting about creating it, s/he gets some understanding of the techniques s/he will need to utilize to bring that piece to fruition.