Ego Death is the third LP from psychedelic folk-rock band Beams, based in Toronto and formed in 2011. If that opening line sounds like it was lifted directly from a press release, that’s because it was. I had honestly never even heard of Beams before this press release landed in the Picky Bastards inbox, but I was immediately taken by the lead single ‘Born To Win’ and its relentless, driving guitar line alongside the way lead singer Anna Mernieks-Duffield uses her voice throughout the song. From moments of quiet reflection to bursts of furious release, and even during the operatic-ish bridge before the chorus, she manages to tread a fascinating line between emotion and control. In this first single, and the album’s opener, I hear shades of many artists I adore. None more so than The Weather Station, whose album I reviewed earlier this year.
But while that The Weather Station album was focused on looking outwards at the climate crisis, Ego Death has a more singular and personal purpose. The ten songs on offer here chart the struggles of Mernieks-Duffield. They are particularly focused on the journey faced by the singer-songwriter as she battled her mental health demons and worked towards a kind of acceptance of herself, her struggles, and her past. And you can really sense this journey in the songs. From the ferocious feel of ‘Break Glass’ which seems to come from the middle of a hugely difficult moment, to the urgent and tension-filled ‘Find Me’ which seems to hover between anger at a partner and a wish to reach out to them, to the somewhat calm feeling of ‘Til The Morning Comes.’ This song is perhaps the album’s highlight, and seems to be born out of a rare moment of self-acceptance and peace. Although even as the songs progresses this feels like it might be under threat.
‘See The Light’ is another highlight as we move into the second half of the album. This banjo-led duet is the most folky song on offer here, and it does make me wonder how far the band has drifted from their origins on Ego Death. I think this album is strong across the piece. That said, I can’t help but feel the songs that exist in the folk realm – the ones that pare things back to some degree – are the most successful songs. The frenetic nature of the opening might have been needed to get across the album’s story, but there is something very beautiful about the more calming music here.
But they are a six-piece band – and there is certainly nothing wrong with the moments when they make use of each and every member. ‘Time Drain’ feels as full and lush as the openers. It also holds the central message of the record, as Mernieks-Duffield sings about the battle between the side of her that wants to move forward and the side of her that finds it impossible. And maybe that, in the end, is why the album is successful in its goals. The singer-songwriter sees herself as two battling sides of the same person, and she has represented those two sides of herself by switching between the chaos and the calm. It works. I just hope we see more of the calm next time around.
Words by Fran Slater.