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Beat Happening: Look Around

Corking anthology from the US cult heroes.

There are few bands more deserving of the DIY epithet than Beat Happening. Formed in Washington in 1982, the trio – led by fey frontman Calvin Johnson – released five albums of scratchy post-punk over a decade, their faux-naïf primitivism achieved without the use of a bass and with members regularly swapping instruments.

Johnson’s K Records also became a crucible of the local indie scene, attracting the likes of Beck, Modest Mouse and Kurt Cobain, who was so enamoured of their anti-corporate philosophy than he tattooed the label’s logo on his forearm.

This stirring two-CD set is a reminder of why Beat Happening were the outlier’s band of choice. It rounds up 23 tracks, from debut 45 Our Secret to 2000’s send-off single Angel Gone, recorded after an eight-year hiatus.

Indebted to The Cramps and Jonathan Richman, these are petulant songs about sex, death and longing, abuzz with melody and invention, with Johnson’s dry baritone offset by the deliberately blank tones of fellow singer Heather Lewis. Indian Summer (later covered by REM) is irresistible, along with the terse Left Behind and the garagey, lo-fi Nancy Sin.

Rob Hughes
Rob Hughes

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.