Did you hear that Beulah song in that Nissan commercial? If you did, then I probably don’t need to tell you it isn’t from their latest album, Yoko. Some marketing guy must have decided that Beulah’s horn-infused brand of indie pop could sell a car. I mean, if the Polyphonic Spree can sell a Beetle, surely these guys can sell a sedan (less of them to pay anyway.) Beulah probably said, “Sure, but take something from our new album, which is coming out soon.” At which point the guy probably had someone else listen to it and was told to say, “Umm … how about that kick-ass song with the great bass riff from the last album?”
To quote these Bay Area boys, “If they sell out, oh well.” But this isn’t your father’s Beulah album. Rather than remaining with their tried and true formula, Beulah redefines itself with a grown-up sound and grown-up themes on Yoko. It is an introspective look at the divorces and breakups facing the band during the making of the album. The harmonies and horns of the past are largely replaced with vocal doubling on the octave. Much like the album cover photo of a divorced canvas, with the only difference being “Yoko,” the doubling clearly indicates possessions have been divided 50/50 and sides have been chosen. However, frontman Miles Kurosky and the guys have a blank canvas before them, and Yoko is the work of art they’ve created.
With a darker, more grown-up sound at the fore, Beulah creates a pastiche of the latest music and makes it entirely their own. Whether it be “Fooled with the Wrong Guy,” which sounds like a Sea Change B-side, the opening to “Landslide Baby” that hints at the end of Wilco’s “War on War,” or the rollicking guitars and distorted vocals of “Your Mother Loves You Son” on loan from the White Stripes, producers Roger Moutenot and Kurosky incorporate all these influences into a sound that is distinctly Beulah.
Any fans expecting The Coast is Never Clear: Part II will clearly be disappointed, but any listener with an open mind will know that it takes a lot of courage to break from the successful mold the band used in the past. Yoko will be the album critics and true fans look back upon as their favorite in Beulah’s catalog. Hopefully, the band can manage to avoid its own rumored breakup after creating an album of such promise. If not, Yoko is a fine way for Beulah to finish their run.