Beaten by Them
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Beaten by Them

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Instrumental group Beaten by Them wanders bleak landscapes of the kind cleared by Godspeed You! Black Emperor and A Silver Mt Zion, but also harness light and motion, its interest spanning from improvisational jazz to electronic scuffing. At any rate, the space it’s in always feels wide open, thanks to slow-building grandeur, swelling cello, and some impressively patient drum work. The band’s 2007 album, Signs of Life, takes advantage of that room with plenty of sudden left turns, and the results are both engrossing and frustrating by design. Think of Beaten by Them as a mutant beast with many unwieldy body sections: The parts don’t work together perfectly, but the friction makes for its own kind of lumbering progress. - The Onion


Inevitably, this band gets lumped into the post-rock category thanks to that whole notion that any epic instrumental music with energy and drive must be post-rock. But San Francisco’s Beaten by Them has more in common with modern classical music and minimalist German bands like Kraftwerk and Neu! than it does with Godspeed! You Black Emperor. With sprawling song structures and languidly inexorable forward momentum, like a river that breaks a mountain, Beaten invokes the grandeur of eternity. The act’s 2007 offering, Signs of Life — not unlike the deceptively slow-paced Werner Herzog movie of the same name — doesn’t hit the listener over the head with the its power. Rather, like a Fifth Column, the music infiltrates your consciousness and subverts expectations of what atmospheric music has to be. - Tom Murphy


Remember that Silver Mt. Zion album from earlier this year? Think back. Remember how it was pretty damn silly? Remember how you thought apocalyptic post-rock had run its course and was no longer a viable genre? Remember thinking that scene in 28 Days Later was both its pinnacle and its death knell? Well, I remember. I also remember taking it all back after hearing this Australian band’s ominous debut, on which they build tense grooves instrument by instrument. Each member does his own things, not always playing toward a common purpose and so creating a strange friction on “Town Too Small” and “Pioneer 10.” The drama recalls early Dirty Three, but without the same sense of careening abandon. These songs go where they need to go and the band just follow along, which makes Signs of Life sound organic instead of forced or “written.” Beyond that, it’s well sequenced as an album, cresting and fading dramatically between tense numbers and more atmospheric songs like the title track--never a glamorous compliment, but crucial here to maintain that sense of undirected flow. Only complaint: Post post-rock band should not be allowed to rap, which sinks “Verge” and nearly ruins the mood altogether. - Blurt Magazine, Stephen Duesner


If Signs of Life is an accurate portrait of the band, calling Beaten by Them a “classical-rock music” isn't entirely off-the-mark but it's an imperfect descriptor and one that's overly constrictive too. It would be more accurate to describe the group as a fluid instrumental rock quintet that occasionally suggests classical ties via Boima Tucker's cello contributions (certainly the funk-rock of “Verge” suggests how misleading the “classical-rock music” label is in this case). The quintet—Tucker, plus guitarist Andrew Harris, guitarist/keyboardist Max McCormick, bassist Lee Matheson, and drummer Ulf Bjorkbom—opts for a loose style that's situated halfway between formal composed writing (Harris and McCormick the principal writers) and improv, and there's clearly structure in place but not so much that it curtails the players' tendency to pursue their individual and collective muses when the impulse strikes.

How uncompromising is Signs of Life and by extension Beaten By Them? “Town Too Small” inaugurates the album in funereal mode with Tucker's cello taking the solo spot for three minutes with intermittent guitar strums the sole accompaniment. The music becomes briefly even more unhinged as hysterically laughing voices join in, after which the bassist and drummer make their aggressive presence felt and lead the raucous charge home (helped by a couple of gunshots at song's end). By track's end, the band's hand has been so confrontationally dealt, the listener's either on board—or not. Save for a couple of harder-edged moments, the languorous title track offers peaceful shelter from the storm in its delicate acoustic strums, synth atmospheres, picturesque horn punctuations, and cymbal shadings (all of the album's tracks are otherwise longform explorations). The band's sweeter side comes to the fore during the opening half of “Yangtze” when the cello wraps itself longingly around gentle guitar playing but the second half's equally enthralling when the guitarist unleashes a brief firestorm. Only “Pioneer 10” misses the mark by being too much of a static, one-note jam that takes too long to develop and consequently fails to justify its nine-minute length. Beaten by Them maintains a steady, midtempo flow throughout “The Asiatic Capital Vista” until, that is, a snarling electric guitar break occurs (twice) at the song's center. The cello's late spotlight even adds a hint of country to the tune's otherwise heavy instrumental rock feel. It's here especially where one hears the confident yet relaxed sound of a band who recorded the material (at Melbourne 's Logicpole studio) after completing a mid-2007 West Coast tour of the United States. - Textura Magazine, Canada


The music on Beaten by Them’s Signs of Life is really difficult to narrow to one genre or even, super-genre, for that matter. However the unity of three Australians, a Swede and an American has created a diverse collection of sounds into one cohesive sound. The band consists of cellist, Boima Trucker, who also sings, drummer Ulf Bjorkbom, Max McCormick on guitar and keyboards, bassist Lee Matheson and Andrew Harris on guitar. The quintet comes to together in a melting pot of post-rock, instrumental, moody, growing pieces.

The first song on the album, “Town too Small” fully showcases what is to be found on this sixsong LP. It begins with a low rumbling of cello and a few guitar chords splashed throughout the opening. The music grows and grows to an intense climax, the guitar then takes over playing a repetitive arpeggiated line before the cello rides a melancholy melodic line. The music develops from here, as the band adds sounds of people’s manic laughs, a steady hi-hat and just as the bass jumps in, the music explodes. And as you think, “well we didn’t get to hear much bass” the music drops out, letting the bass deliver an intense riff before everything explodes again. The music calms and swells and it ends the way it began, with guitar and cello reverb. That seems to be recipe for this album and it’s one that works well for them. A seemingly talented group of musicians, they are able to combine their strengths to create an album filled with slow-growing pieces of music. “Signs of Life” follows in a soft and tender fashion with tranquil guitar strumming, organ and trumpetlike flourishes. The only down part is that the music culminated to another boiling point and it would have been nice for the music to just have been gentle throughout.

“The Asiatic Capital Vista” follows the same pattern as the opening song featuring more guitar melodies and intense drumming. “Verge Part 1” is a nice change of pace and comes at the right time. The song builds and grows into a great fusion of funk and rock as Tucker sings for the first and only time on the album. Instead of just growing to an instrumental breakdown, the music offers a new side to the band. This funky and almost reggae-type style is a redeeming quality.

“Yangtze” offers some of Tucker’s best cello work on the album and the closer “Pioneer 10” has some of the best guitar and bass work on the album. The bass kicks in for a repeating line of low pounding before the guitars and drums kick in. This last song is where all members really shine and the music is both entrancing and vivid, ending the album on a high note.

With Signs of Life, Beaten by Them have offered enough great moments to keep a listener tuned in. This is the kind of music that just begs to be analyzed and examined, with pieces that are all at least seven minutes long, save for the second song, they are instrumental bodies of work. And the music is so expressive and intense; I can only wonder what this band follows this with. - Delusions of Adequacy, Bryan Sanchez


Rain plunking the roof, and I’m inexplicably re-reading Post Office by Charles Bukowski and wondering if creative writing majors are still dropping his name without ever reading a word. Meanwhile, Beaten by Them, a primarily instrumental ensemble, led by a cello, starts kicking ass, although there’s something wrong. Is there a genre? These category-defying bands tend to think they are above it all by meshing instruments and banging off some agro emotion. The press note to the YF reviewer says the band is “classical-meets-rock,” which is off-putting as all hell. Still, there’s merit to the sound, if not the description. It’s
moody, it’s better with absolutely no substance intake, it certainly isn’t beautiful and it feels like a film score. I’m there. - Your Flesh Magazine


Beaten by Them, from Australia / San Francisco, are “fronted” by cellist Boima Tucker, who is more popular for his classical and dub than postrock. Boima wields his bow playfully as he pours out beautifully sad overtures with plenty of dissonant tricks. Guitars trickle in, a booming radio voice comes on spooting something I never could understand, the bass stays subtle but jazzy, and as the mix moves to an epic guitar-driven rock, Boima lets the band take over. Only hinting at the emotional tinged breakdown to come. And then the hardest cello/bass solo you’ve ever heard. Their new album, Signs of Life, is a quiet winner and deserves your ears attention. - Rock Iowa


Next up was Beaten By Them, a mainly instrumental band that cooks up some languid jams in the style of Dirty Three. The Australian quintet rounds out its lineup with a cellist and a laptop for samples (though I could rarely hear them and I suspect guitarist Andrew Harris may have been simply perusing lolcats). Beaten by Them's recent album Signs of Life is distributed by Thrill Jockey, a label that shares the band's obsession with heady compositions that crescendo and ebb. The Record Bar proved to be perfect stage for the group's slow-building numbers. Instrumental bands in such nebulous territory sometimes are lost causes on pop-trained ears like mine, but these Aussies suckered me in and put on a not-sleepy performance. - The Pitch, Kansas City


Beaten By Them have a new release "Signs Of Life", a collision of rock and classical that twists genres and makes them irrelevant. The music is mostly instrumental, though lyrics and vocals do appear on the slightly countryfied "Verge." Elsewhere the cello of Boima Tucker is crucial to the sound, and there are brass sounds and picked guitars. But this is a rock album at heart, and the band fly away when the pace picks up, the drums come in, and the intensity builds as it does on the title track, and on "Yangtze", the opening and conclusion of which reminded me of early Fleetwood Mac. The end piece "Pioneer 10" is a spacey stomper of a track. It's the combination of sounds, musical ambition and great playing that makes this album satisfying; kudos too to whoever designed the sumptuous packaging. - Terrascope UK


http://kscl.blogspot.com/2008/10/live-in-nyc-4-beaten-by-them.html

"Live from NYC" is back with a new episode! The lovely Vanessa Boyd has done it again, this time interviewing the band Beaten by Them at the Knitting Factory. The band has been promoting their new album "Signs of Life" across the US and Europe. With some members hailing from Australia, their sound is hard to steadfastly define, though a cello accents the improvised rock sound.

KSCL will air Live from NYC #4 Wednesday the 8th at 11am, Saturday the 11th at 8pm and Wednesday the 15th at 11am. Make sure to check out the schedule! - KSCL radio station


Discography

Signs of Life, 2008 (Logicpole / Thrill Jockey): US college radio peak chart position #6
Steam, 2006 (Logicpole)

Photos

Bio

When Andrew Harris and Max McCormick decided to move from San Francisco back to their home country Australia at the end of 2006, it seemed they were sounding the death knell for Beaten by Them, the fledgling band they had spawned just a year earlier. But before long the two guitarists were hatching plans to perform with their old band mates: cellist Boima Tucker, drummer Ulf Bjorkbom and bassist Lee Matheson. By mid-2007 Beaten by Them were on the road, making their first tour of the US West Coast. At the end of the tour the band entered John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone to capture some of their musical energies on tape.

Recording in analog seemed a natural choice for a band whose music is so reliant on tones and textures. Engineered by Aaron Prellwitz and mixed by Max McCormick and Andrew Harris at their Logicpole studio in Melbourne, the result is a classic sound of timeless musical quality. In this era of hooks and short attention spans, this is an album, writ large, that works as a complete whole rather than a set of unrelated tracks. From the cinematic opening of “Town too Small” to the space-jam outro of “Pioneer 10”, Signs of Life moves at a stately pace, but with a clear destination always ahead.

Though fundamentally a rock band, Beaten by Them do not seem particularly attached to that genre. All of the music originates in the gritty tones of Andrew Harris’s guitar and is filtered through the sensibilities of Max McCormick, whose arrangements owe more to beats-based electronic and world music than rock. Beyond a few hard-and-fast rules the band are free to improvise at will, an approach which allows the music to breathe and sparks real magic. Cellist Boima Tucker is a key ingredient in Beaten by Them: his performances, which are lyrical and fiery, truly define the band’s sound. The spaciousness and power of Beaten by Them’s music owe much to the spontaneity of drummer Ulf Bjorkbom, a regular player in San Francisco’s jazz scene.

With the release of “Signs of Life” at the end of 2007, Beaten by Them have made good on their musical promise. At a time when seemingly little contemporary music piques the imagination, Beaten by Them have created a surprising fusion of classical-meets-rock music that takes you places you want to be.