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Posted October 21, 2008 by Mike Mineo in Features
 
 

Begushkin Catches a King’s Curse

Emotional variability is an aspect of art that all musicians value. An artist limiting one’s self to a consistent set of emotions can be detrimental to a listener’s perception of the artist, primarily due to the fact that an entire discography consisting of sulking or romanticized longing can become repetitively dull and topically overwrought if not done correctly. You can look at some fine artists who can do this successfully – The Smiths, Mark Kozelek, American Music Club, etc. – and find that their musical styles and structures often diversify the songs enough. And if not, the vocal diction is varied enough to capture a consistent audience for decades. There will always be a small select group of people who opt to only listen to somberly reflective alt-rock or mindless sexually-driven pop music due to their linear perception of the art of music in general, but most listeners enjoy occasional doses of topical diversity in the music the dedicate a lot of time in discovering. To combat such linearly mundane approaches while simultaneously delivering a consistent theme and set of central emotions, Daniel Smith has become notable for crafting songs with rich imagery, brooding contrasting instrumentation, and – arguably most importantly – the ability to interweave the two aspect to craft tales of bleakly entertaining circumstances. Under the alias of Begushkin, his lyrical journeys prove both wildly engrossing and startlingly unique.

When Smith’s debut, Nightly Things, was released in June of 2006, critics took note of the young Brooklynite’s prevalent ability to emit a plethora of lyrically-led topics without overwhelming the listener. Lovelorn desperation, violence and angst, maddening loneliness, and self-inflicted emotional wounds were a few of the relayed emotions involved, all with a supplemented cast of fictional characters and exotic locales that would make even songwriters in the storytelling vein of Tom Waits and Lou Reed grin with approval. The release’s style was centered in folk, with a few other elements like gypsy-rock and glam making subtle appearances. Acoustics often led the melody in the unique of forms, usually in a blatant minor key due to the brooding topics and backing instrumentation involved. It was by no means a solely acoustical affair though, as strings and accordions also made cameos that added to the rich qualities of Smith’s songs in extravagant form. His vocals are on another as well; they quiver and moan with a likeness to two other Daniel’s who dwell in the realm of oddball folk: Dan Bejar and Danielson, though the latter Daniel Smith ironically has no relation to Begushkin’s Smith. The main difference between these artists and Begushkin, though, may lie in Smith’s stylistic bearings.

Treading on a path located somewhere between Middle-Eastern gypsy-rock and folk-based Americana, his wholesome sound and derived influences turn out to be wholesomely his own. For Smith’s sophomore album, King’s Curse, he has chosen to expand upon a sound that was already enticingly original enough for the acclaimed reception of Nightly Things. King’s Curse sees a larger emphasis on the shades of gypsy-rock that made Nightly Things – particularly on the bustling guitar-led “Hearth Light of Our Home” – so memorable. The emotional intensity of Smith’s quivering vocals has also heightened the aspect of zealousness that complements the increased ferociousness of his general stylistic demeanor. The self-titled track is highly representative of his newly initiated narrative approach, with this track in particular being one of the faster-paced efforts on the album. The tempo is in accordance with the song’s narrative focus, one that tells of ruthless hierarchical figures and creatures that would appear to fit well in medieval folklore. “The gypsy king at last is dead!” Smith pronounces with glee, followed shortly by the ghastly accompaniment of female vocals. “But his soul I couldn’t save and hollers like a lunatic from the diamond cave.” Such a vividly haunting conclusion is one component that makes Smith so memorable; he seems to always establish a song’s focus and carry through with it until the listener reaches an extremely satisfying conclusion.

Though King’s Curse is more expansive and ardently expressive on a superficial level, “Murderer” demonstrates his more subdued attempts at plot-based thematic involvement in excellent form. “Cranberry wine, dripping down her spine,” he begins, backed by an ethereal electric guitar progression and the faint whirring of an organ. The chorus sees the rumbling of percussion enter with a sparse melodic shift; the song actually takes over three minutes to truly build up, resulting in a monstrously successful guitar solo that sees all formats of instrumentation enhance tremendously before the track reverts to its original subdued format before the conclusion. “Refugee & the Hag” is notable for Smith’s excellent vocal delivery and the guitar usage that contrasts it. He opts to use several sliding techniques in addition to his quivering snarls, a vocal element that appears most openly effusive in both “Refugee & the Hag” and “King’s Curse”. The last two tracks on the album, “The Beat & the King” and “Gone to Hell”, are easily the album’s most structurally ambitious. “The Beat & the King” recalls vintage Sunset Rubdown with its marching-band rhythmic pattern and increasingly volatile vocal accompaniment, while “Gone to Hell” sees some of Smith’s most commendable guitar work to date. Both exceed six minutes in length, but knowing Smith’s talents as both a storyteller and songwriter, he can make time fly by seamlessly. The bulk of King’s Curse is chock full of material like this; time just flies by so quickly when entertained by a master storyteller.

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Begushkin – Murderer

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Begushkin – King’s Curse

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Begushkin – Refugee & the Hag

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Mike Mineo

 
I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound. I used to write for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine. Send your music to [email protected].