Beat Connection exists in the intersection of 21st century art and artifice. Theirs is a sound space less traveled, a convergence of disparate sonic avenues and forward-thinking ideas, a crossbreed of unfettered shine and calculated edge. It is at once pop music in disguise and art music indisposed. It is, in a phrase, music for, about, and in complicit understanding of these modern times.
Comprised of the Seattle-based Reed Juenger, Jarred Katz, Tom Eddy, and Mark Hunter, Beat Connection has evolved from its origin as a duo to the current and complete status as quartet. And as its compositional evolution has emerged, so too has the group's mentality, relying on a laser focus and sharp eye for detail to help shape its big-picture worldview.
"With Beat Connection there is a self-conscious awareness that we are operating within a tenuous pop music realm," says Juenger. "We're almost trying to be the Merry Pranksters of that world, poking pop music in the eye with a stick while also giving it a handshake. Corporate branding and things like that may be necessary, but there's also a huge interest in being subversive to the whole thing."
According to Juenger, the bulk of the band's sound is built around the selective middle ground of common musical interests that exists between Beat Connection's diverse musicians. "There is a really high level of quality that we require in any genre, and then the genre becomes unimportant once the quality threshold is met." Enamored of peers like Tame Impala, Jungle, and Jamie xx, Juenger identifies as icons '80s groups like the KLF and Public Image Limited, in addition to modern giants like Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar, and Kanye West, as much for their approach as for their albums. "A lot of the inspiration that we draw from has nothing to do with our sound, but everything to do with the intention of the music. Those bands knew and understood the consumerism and commerciality of their music and where they were going with that, incorporating those things back into it and almost trying to slide that past the audience."
And so, set this fall to release Product 3, the band's third offering, second full-length album, and US label debut on ANTI- Records, it's clear that Beat Connection is intent to toe that line simultaneously as auteur and entrepreneur, with enough skill, vision, and dedication to its craft to transcend either side.
"The name 'Product 3' started as a joke," says Juenger. "This band is our business; the products are ourselves and our songs, the art, unifying all those and also being accepting of the idea of presenting it to the audience. It's a little tongue-in-cheek but it is serious at the same time. I don't think anything that is super important to you, like this band is to all of us, can come fully out of satire. We're all into pop music, and I'm incredibly proud of these songs, but sometimes when we're writing it's like, 'Where's the line, how do you make pop music that's not just Top-40-radio pop music?' So that was the exploration."
The artist's dilemma, selling out, buying in, stealing soul... In the 21st century, it's all as archaic as the old "if a tree falls in the forest" thought experiment. Beat Connection's creations are not concerned with all that; the world moves too fast these days anyway. What good does it do to hold a mirror up to a hyper-speeding nature when the view has already changed in the instant that you bent down to pick the mirror up?
"We have this phrase we use a lot to describe those types of things," says Juenger, "we call it 'Industrial Condo Sadness.' Basically, the new construction of an apartment building probably destroyed something that was culturally important or valuable or accessible to you. And now it's been replaced with something that in actuality is much nicer but is no longer accessible. So we're trying to find the middle ground between the really nice shit you can't have and the really dumpy shit you can have but that you miss once it's gone."
If Product 3 is a middle ground, it's hard to imagine anything higher. The songs here are thick with huge peaks and down-tempo changes, carved-out niches, wide-open spaces, and syncopated rhythms. Beats pulse and samples intertwine, guitars and strings collide with synthetic electronic elements, while Eddy's words and breezy vocals balance the lot in a natural, familiar meld that still manages to stretch the boundaries of what you know. The method to Beat Connection's creating is an ethereal exercise in detail management; it's also often a far less linear process than it is emotionally experimental.
"For the most part it's just an idea that has nothing to do with the song that eventually exists," says Juenger of the group's creative process. "It's not like I have the tempo set up, drums arranged and sequenced, synths figured out, and guitar tracked. It's more like, 'You know when this or that thing happens...isn't that weird? Let's try to write a song about that.' And then trying to find a sound that sounds the way an idea feels, or the way a certain scene in a movie is, or something like that. There's a lot of taking inspiration from whatever is going on in your life or whatever you happened to have absorbed the day before. But every now and then there's also, 'Hey, here's this really weird synth I found, or these cool drums I dug up, let's try to use these,' or someone else is playing guitar or keyboard, or Jared's playing drums, and the song starts to come together that way, and then it's just branching it all together. There are even other times when Tom has written lyrics and a melody and we produce a whole song around two couplets. When people understand the amount of thought and composition that goes into all that, that's massive to me. This album's songwriting process took almost two years. We spend so much time on the details."
The songs of Product 3 are sometimes jubilant and sometimes downcast, in both tempo and in message, but the common thread throughout them all, according to Juenger, is a strong sense of sonic optimism. "Another Go Round," with its delve into the foils of a familiar relationship pattern, is ultimately a happy sound; "So Good" is a commercial-ready pop song of the catchiest order, which segues deliberately into "Reality Television," a call for patience and composure against the dizzying fad-hopping of the times. "There's a lot of push and pull between that ecstatic moment of meeting someone new and feeling strong about it, and the more real-life sadness of the one that didn't work out," says Juenger. "They're all through the lens of love songs but they are more often than not about different situations, about being dissatisfied with post-college life and jobs and those universal things. But even more universal than those feelings are the way those play out in relationships with someone you're interested in romantically."
In touch with their emotions, in control of their business, and in demand for their art, the members of Beat Connection have converged upon that same high level of quality that exists in the music they admire. And like all the most successful 21st century auteurs and entrepreneurs, they push themselves constantly to examine their own work and to hold up mirrors to none but themselves.
"We're constantly writing and trying to think about the same themes and trying to find the best version of that, the way that painters make a lot of versions of the same still-life or scene-we're trying to do the same thing with songwriting," says Juenger. "I would say this is our Blue Period. If we're going to compare ourselves to Picasso, shit will probably get real weird after this."