The Groove Seeker: Beep’s City of the Future

On a weekly basis, The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.

Beep: City of the Future (Third Culture Records, 1/18/11)

Beep: “Robo Pup”
[audio:|titles=Beep: “Robo Pup”]

San Francisco-based trio Beep has tapped into a fresh vanguard with its upcoming release City of the Future. The indie-rock-meets-experimental-jazz trio is commanding without being loud, making the dynamics and improvisational strategies of jazz accessible to a whole new audience. City of the Future contains pieces that advance rather than deconstruct in an accomplished style that forgoes any art-school tropes narrowly associated with the experimental tag.

Produced by Eli Crews (producer for Deerhoof and Why?), the record is marked by passionate percussion and a broad sense of what a melody can sound like. Making avant garde sound closer than ever to the present, Beep has found a sound that mixes the vibrancy of the modern rock recording with the experimental subtleties of a jazz record.

The trio’s members — bassist Nate Brenner, pianist Michael Coleman, and drummer Sam Ospovat — have been quite active in the San Francisco music scene for years. Releasing their debut as a strict jazz outfit in 2006 with Short Stories, they followed it with the more genre-defining risk-taker You Are Special, You are a Special Friend in 2009. But with its third release, Beep separates itself from the myriad jazz trios on the scene today.

If there’s anything immediately characteristic of Beep from opener “Golden Chinese Amulet,” it’s that patience is balanced by a shape-shifting sound.  The album’s arrangements are gratifying as notes emerge from drones in a tasteful pace that isn’t brooding, but exciting and innovative. Ospovat’s drumming falls into a heavy groove right off the bat, while Brenner and Coleman fill in its spaces with quasi-precise, dark-toned jazz inflections.

Coleman’s keys glide through City of the Future in a Thelonious Monk-esque on-time/off-time style, gently maneuvering across the musical space, sporadically intersecting with familiar chords. The track “Mbria” is really as good as it gets. While Coleman’s thick tone captivates, the Brenner-and-Ospovat rhythm section is filled with intricate drum staccatos and free-flowing bass lines that are slightly off-kilter. The track also features tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus on vocals. Her ’60s Parisian-style vocal break sends the band into a soulful outro where, with the new-found tone from a baritone sax, they all come together to drive home a single melodic theme.

Garbus is also featured on the frantic “Wolf Pantalones,” easily the most noise-centric track on the album that uses variations of repeated melodic phrases to coalesce dissonant sounds. It’s a battle of noises that is as warm and familiar as it is tweaked and subverted.

With track after track being an exercise in that contradiction, Beep has made a record that never repeats itself, making City for the Future extremely enjoyable from start to finish. Though the last track, “Robo Pup,” sounds like it could be from a hand-cranked music box, audiences should wind up this album more than once to pick up its intelligent eclecticism and inventive sound.

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