Reinventing Song: Blackout Beach’s Blues Trip

14 03 2013

Upon its release in 2011, Blackout Beach’s Fuck Death took a lot of people by surprise. The album’s tight weave of synthesizers and sonic soundscapes, which provide a rich, multifaceted backdrop to Carey Mercer’s often hushed words on war, sharply contrasts with the guitar driven fury that defines much Mercer’s back catalogue. Fuck Death marked radical departure for Mercer, one that had taken him a long time to create.

“I recorded Fuck Death over the space of two or three years,” says Mercer “I wasn’t working on it every day but I would work intensely for weeks at a time. I wrote all the music and then I sat on it for about a year waiting for the right words to come. As I listened, I often asked myself ‘What does this sound like?'”

Mercer eventually found his answer in an unlikely place. While reading Michael Herr’s Dispatches, a first person account of the Vietnam war, something clicked.

“I read Dispatches and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, my record!’ Vietnam couldn’t be further away from my own experience, but it’s one of those things that keeps resonating: I feel kind of haunted by it. I thought this record could be not just about war, but how war is represented, how it’s fictionalized and how disgusting that is, but also how I get kind of giddy reading about it.”

With a renewed sense of direction, the words came quickly to Mercer. He discovered that the elements of war were hiding in the music all along.

“I just had to listen for a really long time. I noticed that there was a lot of static, a lot of helicopter sounds and short wave radio, which could be interpreted in several ways but because of what I was reading and thinking about at the time, I heard those sounds in the context of war. I wondered what it would be like to have an aggressive helicopter flying over me.”

After thousands of hours of work, mostly spent in solitude, Mercer had finally completed Fuck Death. Released in 2011, the album was met with much critical acclaim but, in hindsight, Mercer is largely ambivalent to his experience recording it. What began as Mercer’s labour of love ended as a war of attrition.

“I don’t ever want to make that kind of record again,” says Mercer “It represents thousands of hours of looking at a computer screen. There’s a kind of singularity to the album because it’s all me playing. I guess it’s kind of neat that you can do that now– you can hole up with your computer and synthesizers, become insular and after a few days you’re like, ‘Wow, I worked on this so much, it’s so neat, what a wonderful way to spend time!’ . But after a while you start to go a bit nutty: it becomes a toxic experience and actually starts to poison you a bit.”

Mercer’s remedy to the toxic experience of recording Fuck Death came last summer when he, along with drummer Melanie Campbell and bassist Dante DeCaro, stole away to DeCaro’s remote studio to radically reinterpret many of the songs on Fuck Death. Ironically, the three piece band ended up stripping down Mercer’s solitary constructions.

The session ultimately resulted in Blues Trip, which was released on Bandcamp in February and will available on limited edition vinyl later this year. As Mercer confides, the album brings new life to the material.

Blues Trip appeals to me because it was tracked in a day with friends. We thought it was kind of funny that we started off with this electronic record and reduced it to what a lot of people would call one of the more mundane forms–the blues. But we were so invigorated and excited by what we were doing, much more than if we had faithfully recreated Fuck Death. Doing that wouldn’t have been much fun for me.”

On Friday night, Victorians will have a chance to see songs transformed. Mercer, along with the three piece incarnation of Blackout Beach is set to take the stage Victoria’s newest venue, the Copper Owl. The evening promises to be a culmination of thousands of solitary, introspective hours in front of the computer and one fateful summer afternoon rocking out with friends. It shouldn’t be missed.

Nick Lyons


Ugliness Overcome: Blackout Beach’s Fuck Death ((or, “An Ode to the Overwhelming Weight Wikipedia Inflicts on Our Futile Internet Generation in D#,”) or, “Dusk Only Ends with a Plosive; Dawn Arrives in a Similar, Tentative Manner”))

15 11 2011

When are we going to realize that in Carey Mercer, North America has her sole living and deeply gasping genius?

“Genius” is not a word this reviewer uses casually.  In fact, I would probably only bestow the adjective upon two artists of the last fifty years or so.  First (and only because I use chronology as my guide): David Foster Wallace, author of Infinite Jest and more recently, the tragically posthumous Pale King.   Wallace took his own life in 2008; accordingly, Mercer’s genius is of a solitary vintage.

If Fuck Death, which will be set loose tomorrow via Dead Oceans, is any indication, genius is happier alone.  Mercer’s new album burns brilliant in front of the pale dross our society promulgates at a rate most terrifyingFuck Death is the work of a very lonesome and tortured human being; the results are painfully superhuman.

Now in recent years, Mercer has handcrafted some mighty large boots to fill.  Arriving hot on the heels (pun intended) of two masterpieces (Paul’s Tomb, A Triumph and Skin of Evil) which were released under the respective monikers of Frog Eyes and Blackout Beach, Fuck Death forces a privy, fortunate few to wait, breath baited, in line (undoubtedly alone) in front of record store’s familiar glass door to pick up a double gate-fold (we can only hope) pressing of Mercer’s most recent release; this is an album which won’t disappoint even the most dedicated fan in the slightest, I can assure you.

Fuck Death is at once a testament to beauty and to ugliness; its ambiguity guides a fortunate listener’s open ear into a wholly other realm—we are confronted with the divine as we listen, and we’re probably surprised by what we see.  Sure we see Beauty, but mostly we bear witness to a whole mess of ugliness.

Upon being subject to many-a-listen of Fuck Death, my wife said something to the effect of “that guitar – it reminds me of so many mosquitoes”.

I have come to agree, be it begrudgingly (we are married, after all).  There is undoubtedly an element of ugliness on Fuck Death; in fact there are several.  But this immaculately informed rendering of the underbelly of the aesthetic world would, quite simply, be impossible if not for Mercer’s equally familiarity of beauty, which is so obviously (in a most subtle way) evident on the record.

We, the fortunate few who pay attention to Mercer’s recent and captivatingly prolific output, find Beauty a form most pure on Fuck Death’s third track “Deserter’s Song”.  Weighing in at an anorexic one minute and seven seconds, “Deserter’s Song” is absolutely perfect—it is worth the cost of the album, and then sum (again, pun idended).

It is apt that a “Deserter’s Song” is as brief as it is beautiful.  In a landscape of war-mongering psalms (the very next track boasts war’s bloody, singular mantra—“War, war, war, war is in my heart…”), the “Deserter’s Song” instills in her listener a much needed solace, especially in the context of such an abrasively beautiful album— Mercer’s black document of vengeance and bees.

Be it the ever-ticking clocks of “Drowning Pigs” or the dissonant moans of the “Broken Braying Sound of the Donkey’s Cry”, Fuck Death is an album in desperate need of fleeting beauty to counter disturbing and chaotic themes which threaten to overwhelm the sullen ear of its listener.

Miraculously, one minute and seven seconds of beauty in its most distilled incarnation manages to at once counterbalance and, in fact, trump Mercer’s best attempts at manufactured ugliness.

This is a gorgeous album.  In spite of an insipid abrasion and ugliness, Fuck Death spins norms on their heads.  In the vast confines of this album, ugliness is beauty; and beauty, in turn, ugliness.  Go buy it now.  It will challenge you for a brief eternity.

Nick Lyons

%d bloggers like this: