Picture this. Fatigued from four or five hours rifling through a mountain of (then) unwanted vinyl at the Brighton record fair back in 2002, I wearily decide to head home and nurse my aching wallet. Suddenly, a box full of CD promos just happen to catch my magpie eye as I make for the exit. Nestled amongst the unloved sampler discs and Westlife gubbins was a radio promo of the upcoming Beezewax Oh Tahoe album. A love affair quickly blossomed.
Fast-forward 20 years and I find myself releasing said album on vinyl for the very first time. I still don’t know what made me look in that box but I’m very glad I did.
To set the scene a little, Beezewax were a Scandinavian skate punk band signed whilst still in their tender teenage years. Part of a small but important Norwegian Punk rock scene that involved car parks and anti-social music, the Norwegian kids flocked to be part of this scene in those pre-internet nineties.
Oh Tahoe is a triumphant blast of electric noise. Picking up where the bands first two albums A Dozen Summits and South of Boredom had left off it boldly re-navigating the bands direction away from the constraints of Pop Punk. Indeed, Beezewax’s third is a major leap in terms of melody and songwriting nous. Dialling in with the urgent buzz of All The Overseas, those tell tale vocal harmonies bely main man Kenneth Ishak’s (then) new found love of all things Brian Wilson, before the song kicks into fractured chords and tumbling rhythms. A song of youthful optimism and unbridled hope, it’s the perfect introduction to Oh Tahoe. Barely pausing for breath, we’re off in that Big Bad Car and watching as the song of that name drags us up onto the carousel until we’re too dizzy to stand. At this point there’s no turning back and Head Turned Wrong arrives to remind us that the bands love of US indie rock a la The Posies (chief Posie Kenneth Stringfellow had produced the previous Beezewax record) was still an important inspiration on Oh Tahoe. By now, you should be hooked, but for any malingerers out there, the next track Phonebooth Minutes is a glorious racket which spews out of the speakers and empties itself all over the room. Looking back, it was this song that confirmed to me all those years ago that I was in the presence of greatness. Two decades on I still find myself going a little bit funny at the sound of those first twisted chords. Building to a dramatic finale around the lovelorn lyric ‘I’m worthless… you’re flawless’, Phonebooth Minutes deserves recognition as an epic piece of songwriting.
At this point we’re still only four tracks in and luxuriating in the company of the plaintive She’d Be A Diamond before holding our breath and ducking back under the waves with the urgent maelstrom that is Sign Of Relief. The curtain falls on side one in a flurry of melodic thunderbolts.
Side Two kicks off with those pretty piano stabs of Yesterday Lied, a powerful indie rock tune which changes course two minutes in to reveal ‘the magic I lost there with you..’ and suddenly it feels as if the song has started to grow up. Those Punk Pop roots are melting into wistful longing by the time we get to Goodluck and Goodbye. All scattergun drum fills and insistent electric organ it’s another album highlight. ‘Please waste this time with me’ sings the fatalistic Kenneth Ishak at line one, but by the key change a short while later, it’s as if he’s changed his mind. Clattering into the final run of three glorious tracks, Ballad of The Beaches applies the brakes and takes us back to an early seventies moment which surely the younger Beezewax would have run a mile from. Kenneth summons his inner Jackson Browne and delivers an affecting meditation on love and life (possibly), complete with Pet Sounds horn breaks and soaring vocal harmonies. Next up is The Brighton Concorde, another plaintive slow burner. Co-incidentally, I happened to purchase this album just a short stroll from the music venue depicted in this very song. It turns out that The Brighton Concorde was the place where Kenneth’s parents had first met (no mean feat seeing as his Father is Malaysian and his Mum a native Norwegian!). Once again the keyboards cut a swathe through another gentle missive on the frailties of human relationships. Interestingly, the original Scandinavian version of Oh Tahoe positioned this song as the albums opening track, but to NAKED it’s better suited as a late bloomer, complete with tinkling glockenspiel and more massed harmonies.
And finally, some forty-odd minutes later we arrive at the albums defining moment. And what a moment it is. We Used To Talk About The Future is a great title, lyric and song. Prime time Beezewax, dependably strong but without those show-off muscles, WUTTATF is haunted by the lyrical reveal ‘I just want to move away’. And you know, moving away is just what the band were doing. Leaving their musical past and peering into a new future despite the fact that they were all still in their early twenties. A day lasts a week when you’re young, right? But as this final song twists and turns the lyrics darken. ‘I’m unhappy here...you’re unhappy here’. There’s a beautiful honesty to this sentiment which takes on greater meaning when repeated as the music swells and surges like an approaching tidal wave. And then suddenly it’s all over.
So you put it on again.
At its heart, Oh Tahoe wrestles with the bigger questions from the perspective of those ever so slightly too young to know where to look for the answers. And that’s what makes this a truly special album.
Beezewax, welcome to NAKED Record Club.
Thank you for making Oh Tahoe.
Simon Parker is a musician and co-founder of NAKED Record Club
MUSIC ALWAYS SOUNDS BETTER ON VINYL AND ESPECIALLY ON NAKE'D ECO-FRIENDLY VINYL! BUT HERE'S A CHANCE TO INTRODUCE YOURSELF TO 'OH TAHOE' BY BEEZEWAX ON SPOTIFY