Beauty Pill, “Blue Period”
By Patrick King · January 17, 2023 Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP

At a time when high-profile alternative radio acts like Radiohead and Wilco were introducing avant-garde influences to mainstream rock audiences, Washington, D.C.’s Beauty Pill were similarly challenging how far fans of D.C.’s punk and post-hardcore scene would be willing to go outside of their comfort zones. Beauty Pill creative leader Chad Clark had found success in the early-to-mid-1990s with his Dischord Records-signed band Smart Went Crazy, occupying the same sort of agitated/frenzied space as other artists on that label’s roster, but with Beauty Pill, he joined the ranks of forward-thinking acts like The Dismemberment Plan and Fugazi—whom Clark had worked with at the legendary studio Inner Ear as a producer and engineer—to redefine the parameters of what could be considered “punk” in the early aughts.

On 2004’s The Unsustainable Lifestyle, Clark and the band favored relatively subdued and lush studio experiments rather than raw, guitar-heavy post-hardcore. It was a move that puzzled fans of his early work and seemed to fly over the heads of critics looking to make sense of this artistic pivot. It took almost a decade for Clark to release more music with Beauty Pill, finally venturing into electronic-leaning art-rock with 2015’s Describes Things As They Are. Though that album was universally loved upon its arrival, in subsequent years more people have continued coming around to their equally exciting yet misunderstood earlier releases, which have now been collected by Ernest Jenning Records Co. onto a double LP entitled Blue Period, showcasing Clark and the band’s masterful knack for softening rigid genre signifiers long before they were heralded for doing so.

This collection contains the entirety of Beauty Pill’s recorded output with Dischord from 2003 to 2005, including The Unsustainable Lifestyle and the You Are Right To Be Afraid EP, as well as previously unreleased outtakes and demos. While the set is a revelation for longtime fans who were never able to enjoy this material on vinyl (it was released solely on CD), for newcomers, listening to this material in sequence recontextualizes Beauty Pill as a band ahead of their time and adventurous soothsayers of the current genre-borrowing, free-for-all approach now commonly accepted in punk and indie rock circles.

The skittering shuffle of “Such Large Portions!” sung by co-vocalist and co-writer Rachel Burke, owes as much to My Bloody Valentine in its warped chorus as much as it does to the racket happening during D.C.’s famed Revolution Summer. Elsewhere, the minimal, propulsive bass and drums of “Terrible Things” provide a tense bedrock for Clark to explain the origins of evildoers like John Lennon assassin Mark David Chapman and genocidal dictator Idi Amin while warning that fear is not something to succumb to but rather a motivating factor for change. For those missing the crashing guitars of Clark’s earlier band, You Are Right To Be Afraid’s title track is a blistering reminder that he can still write a knock-down-drag-out anthem, rich with interesting left-turns as good as any of his peers. As forward-thinking as the Beauty Pill’s released material is, it’s the outtakes included on Blue Period that provide the most fascinating glimpse into the band’s creative process. Hearing an early demo of The Unsustainable Lifestyle‘s motorik opener, “Goodnight For Real,” presents the song in its sparest form, showing how willing Clark and Beauty Pill were to push the arrangements on the song, and the rest of the album, to achieve their final vision. It still sounds futuristic 20 years later.

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