Beneath Wind and Waves
How important is consistency in a record? No doubt you would agree with anybody that bought an LP just to put it on and find that every single song sounded exactly the same. But how much variation is too much? Should the absence of cohesion, songs that are paced and built in different ways, and unpredictable vocal choices detract from the overall value of an album when viewed as a single piece of artwork?
That’s a question to keep in mind when listening to the newest release from Beneath Wind and Waves. Non-être is produced and released by the duo of Jim Walker and Shawn Lawson Freeman (who are also the band) and although it’s a better than fine record, its inconsistencies keep it from being as successful an effort as it should have been.
Walker and Freeman share vocal duties while playing all the instruments themselves, and have managed to build a record that sounds like it was cobbled from different records. It’s not a terrible problem to have, but with a little more tightening and some more direction, Non-être and Beneath Wind and Waves would be on the short list of Northwest bands to keep an eye on.
Here’s an example of how the album feels a little loose: “God Said” comes right in the middle of the album and is a vocal track backed by acoustic guitar, some soft drums, and bass. It’s one of Non-être’s most successful songs. The vocals are beautiful, and the tone of the singing is perfectly matched with the instrumentals. From beginning to end, it’s a great song. Preceding “God Said,” is “Loop Me In.” Again, this is a great song; again it is one of the album’s very best. But the song is built using an electronic backbeat and samples at the beginning that bring to mind arty hip-hop.
Taken individually both songs are strong representations of the talent of Beneath Wind and Waves. But stepping away from the record to look at it in its entirety there’s just enough discordance to distract the passive listener. It’s a nitpicky criticism but it stems from the fact that Non-être has the potential to be a great record. It also seems like Beneath Wind and Waves isn’t very discriminating about what made it on the record.
Non-être has its share of songs that just don’t work. “Persephone” is a re-telling of the Greek myth. Persephone is the daughter of Demeter; she eats a pomegranate seed while being held captive after being abducted by Hades, King of the Underworld. Although Persephone is allowed back to the world of the living by Zeus, the consumption of the pomegranate seed forces her to spend half the year living as queen of the underworld. The song is one of the album’s least successful due to the clunky songwriting. It’s well trodden material—Persephone was a major character in at least one of the two Matrix sequels—and Beneath Wind and Waves’ take doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. The female vocals for “Persephone” courtesy of Stephanie Schneiderman are fantastic—Schneiderman adds vocals on three songs and the two-part harmonies are really stellar—but they aren’t enough to save the song.
It’s the failure to execute that makes the inconsistencies of Non-être stand above the good. A producer that isn’t also writing and performing all the music could fix these issues by lending an objective ear. There’s no doubt Beneath the Wind and Waves has the tools to put out a really solid record. The question is, will they be able to single out those things they do successfully and stick to them at the expense of everything else.