Every once in a while, your local football club will employ the services of a ball juggler to entertain the crowd during the brief respite known as half-time. Usually, this will consist of a young gentleman balancing, spinning and endlessly playing keepy-up with a football to the collective oohs and aahs from the crowd. It’s impressive stuff, but try putting him slap bang in the middle of a full blooded 11-a-side game and he’ll be begging for mercy. This is how I feel about Chicago-based Health&Beauty; there is skilful talent aplenty but when it’s laid bare before me, does it really amount to a hill of beans?
Health&Beauty are fronted by their sartorially bearded founding member Brian J. Sulpizio, ably assisted by the bearded Ben Boye and Frank Rosaly, who also has adequate facial hair. Is this important, well not really, I’m merely setting the scene for you. Unbelievably, No Scare is the sixth album Sulpizio has committed to tape, or whatever modern storage technique is used these days, although the band have arguably found greater fame on this side of the ocean as the backing band for Ryley Walker. If you haven’t taken the trouble to listen to Walker’s Primrose Green yet, then go and do so.
Health&Beauty are nothing like the smooth folkies you may have been expecting, No Scare is as far removed as it’s possible to be without turning into Rammstein. This is an experimental exploration taking in the varied worlds of Americana, jazz and Country with a sprinkle of the blues every now and then. Album opener ‘Back To The Place’ fooled me early on into thinking this was going to be yet another troop of uber-talented bar room musicians as the song takes off in a Harrier jump jet style before riding along like an untamed mustang. At this point I was with the guys all the way, that was two minutes and 13 seconds in.
In a recent interview with Impose, Sulpuzio admitted that the recording sessions for No Scare were “pretty live” which I take to be muso speak for turning up, plugging in and seeing what transpires. This isn’t meant to be disingenuous, I had no idea where ‘Beyond Beyonce‘ was headed, one minute it was uphill and the next, down dale yet despite its free-form nature I never once felt trepidation the track would fall apart like a cheap Ratners bracelet. You can imagine the three of them sweating in a dingy Chicago studio, riffing off each other, taking it in turns to spiral off at a tangent before a nod, a wink, and it all pieces back together. Only on ‘I’m Yr Baby (for Aaron Swartz)‘ do they twang for The Man across more than eight minutes of sauntering Country-tinged nostalgia.
It takes an ocean of ability to produce an album of technical competence as breathtaking as this but as with my juggling footballer analogy, is anyone really interested in the results in the real world or have Health&Beauty had oodles of fun jamming and foisted the results upon us? My guess is the musicians among you will admire it but for me, seven tracks weighing in at less than 30 minutes requires more than musical prowess to make an impression.
No Scare is released on August 5th on Wichita Recordings
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.