Some albums take a while to be fully appreciated, especially if the music is as ambitious and demanding of the listener as Michael Beach’s solo debut Blood Courses. Released in September last year, the album has taken a backseat to Beach’s Electric Jellyfish commitments, with copies only furnished to the press to coincide with a residency at IDGAFF in Melbourne this month.
In contrast to Electric Jellyfish, this is an incredibly stark record. Over the sparsest backing of a single electric guitar or piano, the songwriter sings complex tales of darkness, loss and regret. Inevitably, some of these songs resonate with the trauma of losing two friends in a car accident on Electric Jellyfish’s first American tour in 2007. While death is a theme that reoccurs frequently, it is only the starting point for philosophical ruminations about the nature of life. As a result Blood Courses is a lot less morbid than one might expect.
What emerges is a picture of an extremely talented writer and musician, who knows how to build subdued moods with minimal instrumentation and possesses a versatile voice that adapts to the requirements of each song. Sometimes it feels like Beach is channeling the spirit of Jaques Brel or Scott Walker in his compositions. On other occasions the rawness of his delivery approaches that of Gareth Liddiard’s solo shows. The inclusion of a lyric booklet only enhances the experience of listening to this record.
Somehow these songs seem to exist outside the framework of popular music, their structures both classic and completely individual. As such, Blood Courses is an album that will hopefully be regarded as a fully realised work long after its contemporaries have faded from memory. It avoids the pitfalls of genre, fashion and commercial considerations so successfully, I’m tempted to call it timeless.