What can be said about making the most with what you have?
For Beat Happening—the ‘80s-‘90s pioneers of modern lo-fi and bedroom pop—this sentiment is more than a slogan, it’s a work ethic. At formation, the band, made up of Calvin Johnson, Heather Lewis, and Bret Lunsford, only owned a guitar and a pair of maracas. To cover up their self-taught playing, they’d add extra reverb to their guitars. A Beat Happening song usually relies on repeating the same few chords over and over.
“Look Around,” the beginning of a Beat Happening reissue series from Domino, provides a stellar entry point to an earnest band that went from owning nothing to meaning something.
Listening to Beat Happening is like finding a dusty box of old toys in your grandparent’s attic. There’s something in their craft that lends authenticity to each song, as if they exude nostalgia. It’s their plainspoken, unassuming storytelling that can sustain album outlier (at over 9 minutes long) “Godsend,” a glorious, epic-length poem that bounces back and forth between shimmering guitars. “It’s just the things you do / You make it true / You’re a godsend,” Lewis harkens, before she counts the ways. “We’ll come back for Indian summer / And go our separate ways,” Johnson drawls in his monotone on “Indian Summer.”
Simple but never basic, innocent yet always wise, “Look Around” exemplifies the art of making music for music’s sake—not to fulfill a recording contract or “make it” in the studio. Beat Happening is a reminder that simply being is enough.