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Daniel Johnston & Beam – Beam Me Up

"Beam Me Up"

Daniel Johnston & Beam – Beam Me Up
25 June 2010, 10:00 Written by Ian Gordon

Let’s begin with a few boring statements…

Daniel Johnston is a very widely accepted outsider musician.

Daniel Johnston has recorded a huge number of songs.

Daniel Johnston’s lyrics are primarily sad.

Daniel Johnston’s singing is somewhat unprofessional.

Daniel Johnston’s music splits people into three groups:

Group 1: Those who have never heard his music, or who heard it briefly and found it entirely disagreeable.

Group 2: Those who are convinced of Johnston’s underlying genius and have heard every song that he has recorded (perhaps even off an original cassette recording).

Group 3: Those who appreciate Johnston’s unconventional talents and interesting biography, and on occasion listen to some of his better-known tunes, or covers of them by Beck, Beach House, or Eels.

Chances are if you’re reading a review of a new Daniel Johnston record on a mildly alternative music website (which, by the way, you are) then you belong to the third group. As such you are probably wondering what Beam Me Up offers to those (including your reviewer) who purchased a ‘Greatest Hits’ collection (Welcome to my World perhaps?) but could never quite stomach diving headlong into Johnston’s back-catalogue.

Well let’s get one thing straight, you are not going to learn anything new about Daniel Johnston from this record. He remains hoarse, squeaky, and often atonal or out-of-sync, but reliably earnest and heartbreakingly genuine in a way that more calculated, cerebral musicians can rarely equal. So, if you’re going to buy the new Daniel Johnston album don’t do it for Daniel Johnston, do it for the BEAM Orchestra.

Where they prominently feature BEAM deliver with conviction. ‘Walking the Cow’ starts off with such gusto, and such a high tempo, that it is a credit to Johnston that he manages to keep up. Staccato strings, horns, keyboards and percussion frantically hustle the cow up the street. ‘Love Enchanted’, the clear highlight of the album, begins with mellifluous organ and off-key trumpet, like a funeral dirge, before mournful strings sweet in to complement Johnston’s lamentations. In this track the prevailing sadness in the biography and work of Johnston is captured with subtlety, restraint and grace to an extent that has rarely, if ever, been achieved before.

Daniel Johnston is a man who is rarely upstaged. In the BEAM Orchestra he has found accomplices that threaten to do just that. Those looking to venture beyond the Greatest non-Hits should consider this album a suitable next step.

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