Beat Happening – You Turn Me On
Beat Happening – You Turn Me On (1992)
Like I expect might be the case for many others of my generation, I discovered Beat Happening reading Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life, a survey of "the American indie underground 1981 – 1991". It chronicles the trials and tribulations of a dozen or so artists who were active on various independent record labels during this timeframe, with an unsubtle side effect of functioning as a paean to the romanticized days before rock "broke through" to the mainstream. Nearly twenty years after it was published, and at least as many since the explosion of The Internet upended the music landscape well beyond the quaint proportions perhaps feared by those bards of pre-Nirvana musical mythologies, the book still operates as a vital genealogy and reference point for indie music as we know it today.
Beat Happening were progenitors of the "twee" genre, which celebrates amateurism and preadolescence. Their mid-80s early history was characterized by deliberately unpolished performance and frugality of hardware. Their first couple of albums stand as testaments to the raw power of pop, no matter how stripped down and cobbled together it might be. On their fourth, You Turn Me On, the band tacked towards a more rehearsed approach. The instrumentation is a bit richer and the songwriting explores more sophisticated pop structures. It's a brilliant statement, a masterclass balance of approachable melodic pop and the textural rawness that made their earlier material so novel.
In a rare feat, the album closes on an extended highlight: the last three tracks are immensely moving, and each for entirely different reasons. "Godsend" lays bare the heart in a world-stopping profession of love; "Hey Day" plunges into solipsism; "Bury the Hammer" lifts us into the bright optimism of new beginnings. You Turn Me On is the sound of the open road, the sprawling plains of America and unbounded possibility. Out there, things only get better, the farther on you go.