Brian Beken

REVIEW and Interview: Brian Beken “New Geography”


Brian Beken – New Geography

When opening track “The Weekend” jump-starts with rich, overdriven guitar and layered vocals on Brian Beken’s self-produced album New Geography, I was instantly transported back to my childhood bedroom, reliving the experience of running in the door with a shrink wrapped disc and scrambling to cue it up on a boom box.

“This whole thing is probably at least a decade late, if not maybe even more than that,” Beken said. “There’s a lot of childhood influences swirling around in my head when I was making it.”

“Movie Stars” has a beautiful melody that presents a throwback feel. The tone of the guitar here is powerful and grungy but there are so many subtle tones to be found in the song.

“I grew up on country music,” Beken said, “listening to whatever was coming out of Nashville on Houston radio up until I was old enough to make my own musical choices, and one of the first things that I started listening to after that stuff was on the 90s alternative rock radio. That spoke to me more, it just excited me more whenever I started to play music myself.”

Brian Beken grew up in East Texas and has toured for over twenty years with Robert Earl Keen and others on the fiddle. After decades of traveling at some of the highest levels of the music scene it was time to shift gears and transition to a grounded lifestyle back in the Hill Country.

“In terms of what I was doing… I’m not going to do much better than that,” Beken said of Keen’s recent retirement from touring. “I figured I didn’t want to move anywhere else, I don’t want to go backwards and get back in a van and drive around… I’m going to shift gears in terms of how I actually make a living.”

“Strangers’ Names” felt like a montage in a coming-of-age drama with the main character seeing their face in a side view mirror of a convertible as their hair blew in the wind.

“I’m playing everything you’re hearing,” Beken said. “I recorded all of this back during lockdown and at the time I was listening to that first Foo Fighters record that Dave played everything on. I think I played fifteen or so instruments on it.” Beken was learning the recording software as he went and didn’t even know how to splice tracks together. “Most of that stuff is all in a single take.”

“David Bowie” is an upbeat song that places a horn section into the mix. It has elements of ska and soul music. Like so many tracks on New Geography, Beken’s production and arrangement are commercially suitable, with many familiar sounds from the past eras of music, but there’s an element of rarity here that really gives it a timeless quality. It’s a perfect lead-in to “Hall of Stone” which had a string section that felt like a hit from the United Kingdom.

Brian Beken took some of the songs from an old project Milk Drive that focused on a bluegrass sound and reworked them for this rock based project.

“Split Peacock” has heavy metal influences and really went for the summertime mosh pit vibe. “Run and Hide” follows with a mellow alternative rock vibe and the harmonies really take this song home. It’s a powerful sing-a-long and it was another track placement that really separates this album from so many others I’ve encountered in the digital era. Everything fits together in a beautiful way that spans multiple genres and takes the listener for a journey.

“It’s a mix of old songs and new,” Beken said. After starting the project with a laptop in his living room, Beken was impressed with how well it was turning out. Beken took the project to Joey Humel for help with mixing. “I really wanted to keep this project homemade and personal and keep it close,” Beken said. “I literally went over to his house pretty regularly for about a year and a half and we mixed this thing together. That exceeded my expectations even further. It went from sounding pretty good to sounding like what it is now.”

“I Don’t Know” was my personal favorite on the album with a transformative indy-folk feel. The humming added here was a wonderful touch. “Bones” follows with another dive into the indy-folk and pop genres with a Latin influence. “Ode to Alice” was another indy-folk ballad with bluegrass undertones.

New Geography ends with “Lt. Dan’s Lament” which felt like a cross between Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots. I can’t say how thrilled I was to hear a fresh take on the golden era of alternative music in this album, and it crosses over into other genres as well with a glue holding it all together. It really feels like an album from start to finish and I expect it to be on the radar of awards shows this season.

Hear New Geography here and find more about Brian Beken:

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