These days, having too many options is almost the same as having none at all. Too many possibilities can be as daunting as writer's block, as a musician or producer gets lost in the possibilities of endless multi-tracking and tweaking sounds.
Ben VanderBeek, the man solely responsible for Apology Fest, claims that "he used to write complicated songs that sounded mediocre, and now he writes simpler songs that sounds decent." That Should Count For Something, his first album, shows that there's something to be said for getting to the basics, and building from there.
To call this a stripped-down or lo-fi affair would be misleading, as the six tracks that make up That Should Count For Something are lush and ornate. The lily is gilded with woozy vocal harmonies, layered electric guitars; bright, brash, brass horn stabs; intensely intricate drumming. VanderBeek makes no bones about his infuences: Grandaddy, Sufjan Stevens, Iron And Wine, and Bon Iver are all listed in the tags on Bandcamp. In addition to these, I hear a strong Elliot Smith influence on That Should Count For Something, which is mainly evident in the layered vocal harmonies. Basically, this short transmission draws from the template of smart, literate, intricate indie rock of the late '90s/early '00s, which is updated with a post-hardcore sharpness and precision, like Fugazi or At The Drive-In covering Death Cab For Cutie. This can be seen most evidently on "When The Moment Is Right,” where jazz-like polyrhythmic breakbeats meet clean, chiming electric lead guitar and soulful horns. Old school meets the new, in an infectious, melodic celebration. These lyrics will end up written on shoes or a backpack, in wite-out or paint pen, just you watch.
That Should Count For Something was mastered by Andrew Garver at USC, whose credits include Burt Bacharach, Black Sabbath, Captain Beefheart and Rage Against The Machine. That should tell you how far VanderBeek is willing to go to make his material sound the best possible. That kind of attention to detail, that going the extra mile, will serve him well, as That Should Count For Something stands out from the legions of fuzzy bedroom producers, and makes you take notice. It's bright and clear, without becoming harsh or blaring. It rocks, while still being soothing. It's adventurous, while still being rooted in the classics.
One hopes that next time he applies some of that quality to album design, as well, as the scrawled Papyrus font in which I later found was his seven year old son's handwriting on the cover is not reflective of the masterful sounds contained within, and could deter the casual browser. But let us not judge a record by its cover.
Ben VanderBeek is ripping up rulebooks, ignoring trends and expectations, and sidestepping the hype machine. It seems that he just wants to write the best possible material and present it in the best possible way. It seems that he legitimately believes in the songs, in the performances, in his abilities and because of it he doesn't need to brag or boast. He offers forth these six windows into his world in a spirit of beautiful craftsmanship.
The irony about Apology Fest's "simpler songs" is it's not hard to imagine VanderBeek constructing something as ambitious as a Sergeant Pepper's or a Steely Dan record. He's gotten back to the basics, and is building on a strong foundation of excellent musicianship, taste, quality and craftsmanship.
Fans of Elliot Smith, Death Cab For Cutie, Quasi, Grandaddy, even Built To Spill or later Unwound, will surely find something of interest on this precocious slab. I expect good things on the horizon for Apology Fest.
Become A Fan
We are dedicated to informing the public about the different types of independent music that is available for your listening pleasure as well as giving the artist a professional critique from a seasoned music geek. We critique a wide variety of niche genres like experimental, IDM, electronic, ambient, shoegaze and much more.
Are you one of our faithful visitors who enjoys our website? Like us on Facebook