“You can sometimes salvage the junk”
I donated a modest amount of money towards this album, but am kicking myself for missing multiple Kickstarter messages sent to an impersonal email account about how I’d like to be listed as a backer (I’m not, but got the T-shirt). Peter Prescott started incorporating found and other far-out sounds on the later Volcano Suns records, and the last Kustomized album demonstrated his love for surf music and movie themes. Minibeast is the one-man project that dials back the punk even further for a more experimental, soundtrack-like approach.
“Oily Morning Paper” sounds like I could have dropped the needle at any point of the previous Minibeast record, Look Don’t Look (2012) but still does not prepare for all the surprises in store. You’d think by now my expectations would have been sufficiently reframed, but knowing this guy can play the hell out of a drumkit makes this faux ride cymbal sound seem a bit anemic. Though retreated in the mix, there’s some pleasing guitar strumming, and fleetingly decipherable voices (“for some strange reason”). “Id Nite” is a downtempo piece that is almost emphatic in eluding my attention, but maybe that’s the point. “High Sea” makes a bit more noise, and even a little distorted guitar goes a long way with me. “Heatweaving” recalls Desire Caught by the Tail / My Life in the Bush Ghosts for me, and no doubt Prescott soaked up some of the same influences, and willfully uses Minibeast as a digestion/re-expression of a way-cooler record collection than my own. (And Prescott is on record for his love of Eno, so maybe I’m hearing a little of that on the lovely “Spring”). “RE: Action” is the first thing like a straightforward song, though Prescott’s vocal is nowhere near the caterwauling mode of his usual delivery. The crinkled-tape effect in the middle of the chant-like chorus is oddly pleasing, whether really reel or digitally-affected. “Bubblegum Disaster” damn near rocks, and with its horror movie organ would have fit nicely on Kustomized’s The Battle For Space album (1995) and predictably, it’s the most exciting thing to these ears.
If anything, it’s probably me that’s falling short on the open-minded and big-hearted aims of Minibeast. Prescott’s statement-of-purpose is, in-part, a rejection of “insisting on your rapt attention… I have always played provocative music (trying to grab your attention) and now, for a change, I can offer some evocative music (off in the background swirling around like smoke, there if you wanna let it in).” The dilemma then, is that some of the songs here are quite commanding in and of themselves, and outpower the modest impact of the other tracks (perhaps placing “RE: Action” and “Bubblegum” as side closers would have been more effective, perking up the listener before sending them back to the turntable, and not otherwise have disrupted the flow). I enjoy the hell out of krautrock and can even get on board with some ambient music—some of the modes Prescott is operating in here—but admittedly there’s a dearth of sample-based music in my collection. One reference point that seems reasonable is Lilacs & Champagne, itself an off-shoot of a band with arguably more “rock” instrumentation, Grails. I like all those records and they nail the balance of foregrounding background music, but in that case too, it’s the live context that hits harder (“Sensations” is my favorite L&C track but the live “Corpse On The Beach version” kicks its ass. But of course, not all music needs to do that.). Minibeast is also a performing outfit (alas, not on my coast) and the available very short live clips are thrilling. I vaguely remember reading that the next record is to be a more live-sounding enterprise, if not recorded as such, and either approach would probably make for a more sustained energy level. I’ll keep listening and back this guy on anything, and will be sure to check my email on the next one.