In the waning days of the past millennium, DC’s legendary punk scene was finding new life in offshoots of the post-punk and indie rock world. Fugazi released their final album The Argument in 2001, and a new era followed. From The Dismemberment Plan to Mary Timony to Q and Not U, the genre’s forebears were finding steady footing. In this sea of fresh sounds and stories, Beauty Pill was simply doing it like no other—and lucky for us, two of their earliest records are now being remastered, showcasing the band’s undeniable brilliance.
After an acclaimed first EP, The Cigarette Girl From the Future, Chad Clark and Abram Goodrich took a huge stylistic left turn. Clark found himself drawn to making what he describes in a press release as “more subtle, melancholic, insinuating music.” The You Are Right to Be Afraid EP and the Unsustainable Lifestyle LP resulted, now both being re-released together as Blue Period, a compilation of the misunderstood early records of the group. It’s truly the band’s blue period, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the defeat and despair that followed the releases initially being spurned by prominent critics. In a story cult followings are made of, the critical aftermath of the records sent Beauty Pill into a 10-year hibernation but for a few singles. And why?
Well, what makes Beauty Pill stand out is what so drastically sets them apart. They offer an antithesis to the prominent punk sound Dischord Records is known for, and yet they occupy punk’s domain with a search for catharsis (it’s “punk in spirit and mind, if not sound,” Clark offers). Take “The Western Prayer,” a clattering art-rock opus built on the defiant plea to God that we be allowed to “soil the nest forever / and never have to clean it up.” Or “Prison Song,” where vocalist Jean Cook’s voice delicately delivers dissonance in a performance so stripped back you could almost forget the driving power chords on an acoustic guitar.
The EP follows in the compilation’s track order and sends us back further into a more lo-fi world with “You Are Right to Be Afraid.” This is the most traditional punk track by far, though the blistering riffs are freckled with Cook’s heavenly backing vocals. The compilation closes with demos and B-sides, including the fantastic “Fugue State Companion,” a cosmic fable where Clark invokes Empire Strikes Back, singing “You’ve gotta slice open the Tauntaun / I’m sure they’ll forgive you” over shimmery Moogs and a volcanic, wailing one-note guitar riff.
These records remind us of how thin things are; a band’s fate can flip, people change. But the past certainly endures—in this case in the form of two largely shelved recordings which have never been more ready for a second life. And what’s more punk than a second life?