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Miles Kurosky

The Desert of Shallow Effects

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Label: Majordomo

Former Beulah leader Miles Kurosky opens his solo debut with the line “My limbs have failed me again,” and that salvo reflects much of what went into the album, The Desert of Shallow Effects. It’s been more than half a decade since Beulah split, and he’s marked much of that time with rigorous surgeries and physical therapy, some of which left him unable to play guitar for long stretches. But even if Desert’s making was marked by long periods of injury-related inactivity, what’s most notable about the album isn’t any sense of fragility or self-examination, but its similarity both to Beulah and one of Kurosky’s other contemporaries, former Grandaddy leader Jason Lytle.

Several former Beulah members contributed to the record, and there’s little to differentiate it from the four Beulah LPs, save for the fact that it’s not as good as any of them. So what makes it not a Beulah record? Only Kurosky knows for sure, but there’s plenty here to recall the erstwhile Elephant 6 band’s latter days (sadly, most of the material here feels closer to late-period Beulah, rather than, say, the Handsome Western States era). “Dead Language Blues” feels like a cousin of Beulah’s “What Will You Do When Your Suntan Fades?,” with its gently bouncing acoustic guitar lines (though it lacks the coda that truly makes that earlier track memorable). Meanwhile, “Notes From the Polish Underground”‘s general malaise is akin to the mood of Beulah’s swan song Yoko, with a meandering structure and minor-key embellishments, including strings, brass, woodwinds and accordion, all over a gently strummed guitar. Closer “West Memphis Skyline” feels pulled straight from the Beulah leftover pile, with its power chords, brass accoutrements, all while it gradually builds towards the climax. The record gets a bit more of its own personality and sheds some of the Beulah vibe on tracks like the shuffling “Dog In The Burning Building,” with brushed drums, bar-room piano tinklings and even a xylophone bit, but tracks like that are generally subservient to ground Kuroksy’s already covered before, and better.

In 2009, Jason Lytle dropped Yours Truly, The Commuter, his solo debut, and Commuter and Desert are kindred spirits in a number of ways. The two bands never had much in common during their heyday, aside from both being based in California, but their respective leaders’ solo debuts both feel deeply indebted to their former outfits, relying on much of the same sonic elements, but without the solid songwriting that formed the core of each group. As on Lytle’s solo record, Kurosky’s own feels stripped of the liveliness and personality that his former group had in spades (though on that front, Desert far outshines Commuter). Both discs feel like they’re largely stocked with half-baked leftovers, but with so many years in the hopper between band releases and solo debuts, hopefully both artists’ subsequent records might feel a bit more fully formed.

The bottom line is that the overwhelming majority of listeners who are going to seek out The Desert of Shallow Effects were probably Beulah fans anyway, and in some respects they won’t be let down. It sounds enough like Beulah in enough places as to not be a disappointment, but it lacks the immediacy and the inventiveness that made that band noticeable in the first place.

by Aaron Passman
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