Beat Happening

You Turn Me On
(K)

Groundbreaking Olympia trio Beat Happening was both deeply loved and deeply hated in its time. The group's amateurish playing, ambiguous sexuality, and sincere heartbreak confused some punk audiences while offering others a radical alternative. By its final opus, 1992's just-reissued You Turn Me On, the sound was harder, more confident, and fuller than ever. "Hey Day" boasts thick guitars and a full-on rock beat while "Bury the Hammer" (a sort of band eulogy) features a twangy Duane Eddy-style lead. The lengthy opener, "Tiger Trap," suspends desperate chords over a slow rumbling drum mantra while its counterpart, "Godsend," has a rich, double-tracked vocal harmony and an angelic looping riff that builds into an almost religious nine-minute epic.

Dismissed by many as childlike or too cute, Beat Happening's lyrics were deceptively vicious and lurid, like sex obsessions buried beneath nursery rhymes. On You Turn Me On, the adult themes were pushed out front. (The album cover features an abstract sketch of a nude woman.) Calvin, the group's leader, spells it out on the title track, moaning, "Turn me on, dead man." Later he drips depraved innuendo on "Pinebox Derby," revealing, "When your palms begin to itch/ That's the scent that attracts a witch." Like the horny Neanderthal of "Teenage Caveman," there is something both comic and menacing about the clanging of the distorted guitars and the go-go throb of the band's Spartan drum kit.

You Turn Me On was produced, unobtrusively, by Stuart Moxham (formerly of the Young Marble Giants) and longtime Beat Happening collaborator Steve Fisk. The fidelity is high enough, but studio gloss is kept to a minimum, so as not to soften the impact of the group's simple and direct melodies. Eight years after its initial release, the record still has the power to frustrate and inspire. Either way, the fragile beauty of Beat Happening's two-chord epics endures.

 
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