When I made the request to review the new Beaten Awake album, Thunder$troke, I clearly had not considered how irritating it would be to have to continually check my computer in order to remind myself where the dollar sign key is (it’s on the 4). My actual reasoning for requesting the album was that I figured it would give me an excuse to return to their grossly under-appreciated debut album, Let’s Get Simplified, no matter the quality of their newly released record.
Well, I have not listened to Let’s Get Simplified since receiving Thunder$troke. I haven’t wanted to, even knowing that giving Let’s Get Simplified another spin would not only be enjoyable, but would also provide some helpful reference points when considering the merits of Thunder$troke. I keep queuing Let’s Get Simplified up on my IPod, planning to start it when Thunder$troke ends, and the same thing keeps happening: I keep putting Thunder$troke back on. Go pick it up and I’m confident you’ll keep replaying it too.
For those unfamiliar with Beaten Awake, you should know that they are a wonderfully sloppy roots-rock four piece from Kent, Ohio fronted by two distinct and excellent singer/songwriters, Joel McAdams and Jon Finley. Let’s Get Simplified split the songwriting duties fairly democratically, with McAdams and Finley alternating vocals on a nearly song-to-song basis. Thunder$troke is pretty decisively a Finley-directed affair, and though McAdams contributions are characteristically first-rate, the record benefits from focusing on Finley’s work.
Those familiar with Beaten Awake should be happy to hear that the band has not tampered with their formula too drastically. Thunder$troke keeps their usual shambolic approach intact while tightening the hooks that barely hold the band together. The title track is built around a fuzzy bass riff and driving drums, well-complimented by dreamy and spare guitars. Beaten Awake have never brought the Cure to mind before, and Thunder$troke is probably an anomaly in that regard, but somehow they wear the influence well, even if it is just temporary.
Elsewhere, drummer Ryan Brannon demonstrates a well-honed ability to defy listener’s expectations on the erratic changes of the gorgeous “Gyro Quake,” turning the song from up-tempo to slow and epic and back without losing any momentum. Brannon handles the tempo switches equally well on the McAdams-helmed “Suite Cheetah,” but the real star of that song is McAdams’ wry lyrical barbs about maturing slower than his peers. It also features the gem, “I eased up to eavesdrop/to drunk-hear your drunk-talk,” something all of us petty, lightweight alcohol dependents can relate to.
The highlights are too numerous to describe in full detail here. Each listen reveals a new favorite (my current choice is the powerful, barely controlled frenzy of “Halo V”). There is a tossed off moment here and there, such as the untitled track, but keeping the song title-less is presumably meant to reflect the slapdash nature of the song. These rare moments aside, Thunder$troke is a remarkably consistent record, one that grows more and more essential on each listen. Hopefully, Thunder$troke will net Beaten Awake the acclaim that Let’s Get Simplified should have.