Chad Clark and Dischord Records have always made strange bedfellows. Clark, formerly of Smart Went Crazy and currently of Beauty Pill, never favored loud, chaotic post-hardcore. Though Smart Went Crazy’s melodies were consistently flavored with angular riffs and dissonant chords, distortion was never the main ingredient and Clark sang melodically and lazily, rather than attempting an Ian McKaye-like bark.
His new outfit, Beauty Pill, seems even less of a likely candidate to be putting out records imprinted with the Dischord label. Even quirkier than Smart Went Crazy and certainly more pretty, Beauty Pill is a pop band, plain and simple. And no one dare utter the F-word when describing them.
On their first proper full-length, The Unsustainable Lifestyle, Clark and his merry musicians jaunt through twelve ditties, each one unique from the rest. Opener “Goodnight For Real” is a prime example of how idiosyncratic a Dischord sign they are. The listener is introduced to a moderate beat and some hazy synth drones, while Clark’s gentle baritone croons, “there’s a band on stage tonight/and every note they play turns its back to you.” When a guitar finally enters the mix, the overdrive is nowhere to be found, and the reverb is dangerously close to Sigur Ros levels.
There are some moments that recall Smart Went Crazy, like the rocking “Mule on the Plane,” the riff-heavy “Such Large Portions!” and the guitarless “Terrible Things.” But there are even more bizarre tracks here, like the faux hip-hop of “Won’t You Be Mine.” In this song we hear some jazzy samples laying the foundation for Clark’s rant against negative racial stereotypes: “the Cristal you spilled/the Cristal you drank/dragging your knuckles to the bank.”
By and large, however, the majority of songs are pretty pop tunes with some slightly jagged edges to them. One can’t help but be reminded of another D.C. based label when listening to the Rachel Burke sung “Western Prayer” and “Quote Devout Unquote.” Though Smart Went Crazy and Beauty Pill have certainly shared stages with an impressive array of D.C. punk bands, TeenBeat seems like a more appropriate home for their shoegazer pop.
Beauty Pill do know how to rock, mind you, but when they do, it’s in a subtle way. Though the riffs on “The Mule on the Plane” aren’t built on a foundation of noise, they do kick an ample amount of ass. And though it may take new D.C. punk fans a while to grab on to this, veteran members of the post-hardcore fan club will find this a refreshing spin on an aging genre.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.