I am pleased, in a way, that Portland musician Jeff Beam’s “Is Believed To Have Been” arrives near the end of 2015, because in a year that’s offered an abundance of riches of recordings and performances from Maine bands and artists, it’s the cherry on top. “Is Believed” is leagues beyond anything else Beam has done, it’s easily among the best albums to come out of Maine in this or any other year, and it’s definitely most engaging, ambitious listen out of any other Maine release in 2015.
Beam, 28, a native of the tiny central Maine town of Greene, played and recorded most of the album himself, though longtime co-collaborators like Dominic Lavoie, Kyle Gervais and others also play on it. For the most part though, it’s all Beam, and he has captured nine surprising, compelling, often beautiful psychedelic indie rock songs, with an ambient composer’s ear for odd, unexpected aural elements, and a rock musician’s knack for making sure the core elements — guitar, bass, drums — are the foundation. On my first of what’s now been multiple listens to the album (with undoubtedly more to come), I found myself smiling at each new sonic treat that bubbled to the surface on each song, be it the insect-like rattles on “Clairvoyance,” the echo of amplifiers on the title track, or what sounds like snippets of rewound conversations on “Auspicious Minds.”
“Is Believed” is a sound and texture album. It’s not a songwriter’s record, as have been so many Maine albums this year; the vocals are largely of the soaring, reverb-y variety, as if Beam’s voice is just another texture to layer on amid the fuzz and gleam. Most tracks consist almost entirely of a series of melodic themes, overlaid with a colorful, often masterful array of psychedelic soundscapes, moving seamlessly from indie-pop to drone-like grooves, to thick walls of distortion, and then back again to pop. “Cherryfield,” the nine-minute centerpiece of the album, is set up in those kinds of movements, each one as engaging as the next. Though half the songs on the album stretch well past the five-minute mark, “Is Believed” doesn’t require a lot of patience, or requires to listener to be meditative; no one phrase, groove or texture overstays its welcome. It’s psychedelic, but it’s not self-indulgent.
There’s lots of influences peppered throughout, from the lo-fi psych-pop of Olivia Tremor Control, to later-period Radiohead (“Revival Song” sounds like an outtake from “In Rainbows”), to Pink Floyd and Brian Wilson and other big names. The psychedelia here is part of a continuum that began in the 1960s, sure, but kept right on going, well past those early drug connotations and into its own unique genre, diving underground for the most part, though sometimes resurfacing in the mainstream. It’s as alive and well now as it was 50 years ago.
I’m impressed. I really am. I’m crossing my fingers more people, well beyond Portland and Maine and New England, take note of Beam’s talent and unique voice. It’s certainly a force to be reckoned with.
Jeff Beam will play a record release party for “Is Believed To Have Been” with guests Nat Baldwin (Dirty Projectors) and Henry Jamison (The Milkman’s Union) at 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18 at One Longfellow Square in Portland.