It’s been six long years since we last heard from Miles Kurosky. I know a lot of you might be saying, “Ummm….who?” Well, refrain from embarrassing yourself by saying that. Instead, bone up on your Beulah. And while that might sound like some kind of innuendo, I assure you it’s not. Miles Kurosky was the lead singer and guitarist for Beulah, the San Francisco based band that was part of the renowned Elephant 6 collective. The band perfectly straddled the millennium, with a career of releases from 1997 to 2003, just as their sound perfectly straddled the bridge between ’60s psychedelia and modern lo-fi indie rock. But seeing that Miles Kurosky was returning was like finding out that there was going to be another Indiana Jones movie, except that Kurosky’s album doesn’t suck.
Rather the opposite, The Desert of Shallow Effects is a triumph. It is proof positive that the six years between albums was well spent. A few Beulah members are back, member Eli Crews is at the production helm, and Kurosky’s voice is still as flexible as ever, but that doesn’t mean it should be mistaken for a Beulah album. This solo debut is incredibly polished without losing any sense of intimacy, not an easy task. Kurosky also stated an effort to write lyrics that were more inclined to tell stories. This is certainly evident throughout The Desert of Shallow Effects. “Oh, Hollywood could not dream of a tale so tragic,” (“She Was My Dresden”) is just one fine example.
Most songs are rooted in Kurosky’s signature guitar and vocal nucleus, but tracks are also dressed with myriad and sundry instruments, making for a rich package, adding weighty yet subtle touches to already strong songwriting. Horns, toy pianos, strings, and yes, even a cowbell all jump in, making songs such as “Pink Lips, Black Lungs” songs to explore again and again to discover something new each time, even the Jeff Lynne-like vocals toward the end. “The World Won’t Last the Night” is one of the more interesting songs on the album, sounding like nothing Beulah ever produced. The drum and guitar combo drive the song ever onwards, like a rushing freight train, but with a lead and backup vocal overlap at the end that sounds like the Eagles singing over Santana. Yeah, weird, but altogether not unenjoyable.
For the most part, fans of Beulah are certainly going to rejoice in this solo debut from Miles Kurosky. But, I’m willing to bet that fans certainly won’t be limited to that sphere. The languid tones of “Housewives and Their Knives” or the fun psychedelia of “An Apple for an Apple” could draw in listeners who somehow missed out on Miles’ original incarnation, only to leave them scouring the used bins for the previous work. The Desert of Shallow Effects is a densely packed bit of master class songsmithing. Heck, it’s worth it just for the White Album craziness of “Dog in the Burning Building,” a smile inducing song if I’ve ever heard one.