Abrasive post-punk was once the modus operandi of Ed Schrader’s Music Beat. On early releases such as 2012 Jazz Spirit and 2014 party prison, the Baltimore duo created small vignettes rather than full-fledged songs. Tracks like “Televan” and “When I’m in a Car” erupted like fireworks, evaporating into the air shortly after the fuse was lit. With Dan Deacon product Riddles, however, those jagged edges had softened and Ed Schrader’s Music Beat broadened their sound. Four years later, vocalist Ed Schrader and bassist Devlin Rice are back with their fourth studio album, Nightclub Reverieand they’ve mostly ditched aggressive post-punk for sleeker, more danceable sounds.
Rice said their intention for the album was to create a collection of “sunny disco bangers”. Although the album sounds more like Suicide than Donna Summer, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat takes a subtle turn to the dancefloor. Hard-hitting tracks like “Eutaw Strut” and “Echo Base” evoke classic new-wave bands like the B-52 and Talking Heads, but with their own Music Beat twist. Propelled by a driving bassline and motorik drums, “This Thirst” is among the most bubbly in the duo’s catalog. Schrader’s echo-soaked vocals, meanwhile, often evoke the darker aspects of the ’80s, reminiscent of bands like the Sisters of Mercy.
In a recent Instagram post Addressing their gender identity, Schrader announced, “I’ve decided to give you the full me…the me that I’ve suppressed in hopes of not making others feel uncomfortable. ” They added, “In your art, you can’t lie. This is why I have always chosen riddles and enigmatic words. Their writing remains as mysterious as ever, filled with dense imagery and mythical resonances, and laced with references to coded meanings, “buried steps” and an unlit lock and key. But there are glimpses of Schrader’s search for their identity: In “Black Pearl,” they sing “I’m a stranger, even at home now/I’ve closed chests to heal you,” tracing the lower limits of their register. Their guttural delivery is reminiscent of their former touring mates Future Islands, and the chorus strikes a cathartic moment on a record that could benefit more of them. It’s one of their best songs to date. On the next track, “Echo Base”, modulated, Disintegration-guitars give way to a slightly monotonous and repetitive hook with little benefit. The drums are so busy that they end up distracting from the otherwise hazy aura.
The band’s early records were varied, with caustic songs interrupted by downtempo intermissions, but Nightclub Reverie, apart from the master ballad, “Hamburg”, often sounds homogeneous. Either way, it’s refreshing to hear Schrader and Rice try something new a decade into their career when many artists would like to stick with what’s already working. Though they’ve shed the frenzied energy that once defined them, they bring a sense of refined intensity even to their newly discharged beats. It was hard to imagine dancing to Ed Schrader’s Music Beat in 2012, but with Nightclub Reveriethis notion is no longer so far-fetched.
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