Beat Happening was among the truly seminal and influential American bands of the post-punk era, a paragon of pop minimalism, rebellious innocence, and indie defiance. The linchpin of the Olympia, Washington-based International Pop Underground, they adopted a stance in direct opposition to the accepted norms at the heart of rock music; ignoring all notions of pretense, professionalism, and stardom, Beat Happening created an unorthodox, raw sound that democratically rotated vocal, guitar, and drum duties between members while jettisoning bass altogether. Dropping their last names to further emphasize their everyman approach, members Calvin (Johnson), Heather (Lewis), and Bret (Lunsford) expressed simple truths and simple emotions with simple music, favoring off-key, tuneless vocals and three-chord primitivism over slick, processed packaging; implicit in their work was also a rejection of major-label trappings, as the group steadfastly remained with K Records, Calvin's self-owned imprint and a model of D.I.Y. indie success. Beat Happening formed in the early '80s; Calvin, a longtime fixture of the Olympia scene who also helped establish the original Sub Pop fanzine (the basis for the subsequent label), had already founded K, originally a cassette-only project started to release music no other company would touch. An alumnus of the short-lived Cool Rays, Calvin teamed with Heather and assorted friends in the first incarnation of Beat Happening, playing shows whenever and wherever they could as long as the performances were held at all-ages venues; his canyon-deep baritone quickly became as much a group trademark as their sardonic, even juvenile songs. After Bret joined in mid-1983, Beat Happening issued their debut five-song cassette a year later; a sightseeing trip to Japan followed, and while in Tokyo, the trio recorded its second effort, 1984's Three Tea Breakfast EP. Their 1985 eponymous full-length debut, produced by the Wipers' Greg Sage, brought Beat Happening their first widespread exposure, as well as a number of comparisons to the burgeoning British twee pop scene spearheaded by the Pastels. A long layoff followed prior to the release of 1988's remarkable Jamboree, co-produced by Mark Lanegan and Gary Lee Conner of the Screaming Trees. The four-song joint release Beat Happening/Screaming Trees surfaced a few months later, trailed by 1989's Black Candy. With the release of 1991's Dreamy, Beat Happening's influence on the indie community became increasingly pronounced; not only did the blossoming cuddle-core movement owe the trio a huge debt, but in the summer 1991 Calvin masterminded the International Pop Underground Festival, a now-legendary concert spotlighting over 50 bands -- among them Bikini Kill, Fugazi, Scrawl, the Fastbacks, L7, and Mecca Normal -- all aligned in their opposition to corporate music. The sublime You Turn Me On followed, but apart from "Not a Care in the World," a track contributed to a 1992 Sub Pop sampler given away free to readers of Sassy magazine, Beat Happening spent much of the decade in limbo as Calvin focused on his Dub Narcotic Sound System project as well as the Halo Benders, a band founded with Built to Spill's Doug Martsch. Despite its absence from the stage and the studio, the trio maintained that it had not disbanded, and reportedly continued practicing on a monthly basis. Ten years after its last release, the band became the unlikely focus of a box set, Crashing Through. The set featured a newly recorded song, "Angel Gone," but nothing else new. In 2015, Domino Records released the career-spanning, band-selected collection Look Around, which served as a reminder to anyone who may have forgotten just how good and influential the band was. ~ Jason Ankeny
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Alternative & Indie - Released September 22, 2015 | Domino Recording Co
A career-spanning Beat Happening collection was long overdue when it finally arrived in 2015. Thanks to Domino Records, the band finally started to get the reissue treatment many bands of their stature had been getting for years. The 23 tracks chosen by the bandmembers themselves include their first single, 1984's "Look Around," and tracks from their five albums and singles, and ends with their surprise 2000 single "Angel Gone," which was released with the Crashing Through box set. It's the perfect starting place for someone who maybe heard about the band and wants to check them out, and it's also a reminder for longtime fans of just how many brilliant songs they had. It's almost staggering when they are all collected in one place like this. The trio of Calvin Johnson, Heather Lewis, and Bret Lunsford were able to create a sound from the very beginning that was inviting in its simplicity and deceptively deep lyrically, with tunes so catchy that they stick halfway through the first listen. Sometimes called twee or child-like, their songs are actually quite often dark and brooding with undercurrents of death and sex lurking just below the crashing and strumming surface. Besides, any band who loved the Cramps as much as Beat Happening did could hardly be twee. Check the thundering crunch of "Bad Seed" or the noir strut of "Nancy Sin," then try to make the case they are anything less than a great rock band. Listen to the aching beauty of "Cast a Shadow" or "Fortune Cookie Prize" and they are a sweet pop band. On the epic "Godsend" or the truly enchanting "Tiger Trap" they are indie rock at its best and most moving. Their greatest almost-hit, "Indian Summer," was covered by R.E.M., Luna, and Benjamin Gibbard. Between Johnson's deadpan vocal delivery, his lovingly crafted persona, and his creepy and humorous lyrics, Lewis' less theatrical, open-hearted singing and writing, and Lunsford's steady musicianship, the band formed the kind of complementary bond most bands would kill to have. Their pieces fit together perfectly and their songs are short bursts of pop music that at their best come as close to perfection as anybody's ever have. This collection is full of heart-warming, life-affirming moments that reinforce the band's status as one of the best American indie pop bands to ever pick up guitars and as such, it's vital listening for pretty much anyone and everyone interested in that style. ~ Tim Sendra
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