Beats Antique album review

BeatsAntique_BlindThresholdI bought Blind Threshold (2010), the third and most recent album by the Oakland, CA-based roots-electronica group Beats Antique, well over a month ago and still listen to it almost every single day. If I had this on vinyl rather than in MP3 format, it would be worn out by now.

So what is so captivating about the album? The eclectic, almost indescribable sound.

The three members of Beats Antique—David Satori, Tommy Cappel, and Zoe Jakes—bring together a diverse and well-trained musical background spanning Western European classical to hip hop, with knowledge of music from Eastern Europe, West Africa, the Middle East, and other regions of the world. This comes through in the album’s fourteen tracks as a bass-heavy, richly layered melding of electronified strings, percussion, horns, and vocals. John Popper of Blues Traveler even lends his harmonica to the track “There Ya Go.”

“Egyptic,” the album’s opening track, is the ideal accompaniment to a tribal belly dance performance, and small wonder with Jakes’ background with Bellydance Superstars and Indigo Belly Dance Company. The song opens quietly, with a line of simple beats and melody, before building into a crescendo of bass, strings, and darbuka. Heavy electronic reverberations replace and also fill the space between the melody and percussion throughout the entire song.

“Rising Tide” features lush vocals by LYNX atop violins and banjo, with occasional forays into the pentatonic scale found in the music of North Africa and the Middle East. It is beautiful, unusual, and a little haunting with the lyrics:

With your altars made of trash,
the aftermath of disposable dreams.
You know that you were born,
for more than what machines provide.

Unlike most of Beats Antique’s other songs, which are largely instrumental, the vocals take center stage here before “Rising Tide” closes with the sound of fading violins.

If you have not heard it yet, Blind Threshold is well worth checking out, as is Contraption, Vol. 1, also with vocals by LYNX and a heavy dose of dub. And if you ever have a chance to see Beats Antique live, their shows are famous for their color and spectacle, as exemplified by this performance at the 2009 Sonic Boom Festival.


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