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March 2000 Pick of the Month
Free Signal
Artist: Beanbag
Record Label: InPop Records
Length: 11 + 1 Tracks/57:36 min

A couple of months ago, Dale Bray, Wes Campbell (manager of the Newsboys) and Peter Furler (Newsboys' lead vocalist) founded InPop Records, a new subsidiary of Sparrow Records. The new label signed Beanbag and promoted the band by sending them to several major festivals, where they made a huge impact on their audience. With excitement boiling to the brim for those who have experienced Beanbag live, the full-length international debut of Beanbag is set to be a success.

In previous years, we have seen the rise of quite a few Australian acts, including Rebecca St. James, Considering Lily and Michelle Tumes. While Beanbag is the same nationality as these artists, their style is completely different from anything that mainstream Christian music might have come to expect from Australia. The hard-hitting opening line of Free Signal testifies to this.

Described by most as rap-core, Beanbag's music is unlike other bands of that style. For example, it is not as hard and full-on as P.O.D., but it still retains a heavy and confronting sound. Lead singer Hunz Van Vliet has a distinctive voice, with a strong Australian accent that further accentuates his aggressive delivery. There is a basic song structure that presents itself throughout: start mellow, with an electronica/pop feel, then unfold into wave upon wave of distorted, whining guitars and intense hip-hop rapping. Having said that, I must add that this structure is broken on quite a few songs, the most notable of which is the opening number, "Whiplash." The track takes you by surprise, and the unwary listener will get a shock when the song starts with nothing but rapping from Hunz. Disturbing, scary distorted guitars are added to the song after a few seconds of Hunz's confronting vocals. The tone then settles down a bit, giving you time to catch your breath, while Hunz expands on the straight-forward opening line, "Jesus will never let you go!"

There is a trap which nearly every band will fall into, either having not enough variety or too much. Beanbag don't fall into this trap. Full-on rap-core tracks like 'Whiplash' are followed by more melodic songs such as "Stale," which are followed by freaky guitar driven electric tunes such as "Desire of the Morning." Hunz has a good vocal range that has a way of giving some songs an electronica feel, while giving others a definite hip-hop feel. A great example of Hunz switching from mellow vocals to aggressive rapping is "Face I Paint." On the verses, his vocals are hushed, almost whispered, but quickly enfold into desperately honest, rapid-fire rapping, in which he talks about his shortcomings as a human, in a manner that all of us can relate to. The song isn't left to a confession about how terrible we are, but instead paints a strong message of hope through Jesus in the final lines of the song:

Even though my mind has got a physical attraction
To yearn for satisfaction
You take my heart so I see Jesus
My heart's with you at last
"Happy Dispatch" examines the dilapidated state of society, blaming the selfish nature of Western culture and challenging the listener to look at his life. "Desire of the Morning" is a song written from the point-of-view of Satan. Before you condemn it, read these lyrics.
You can't deny me!
I'll even shine like an angel
And everyone will think I am something beautiful
People will worship the thing that, I am
Just as long as they don't see my hate 
I cannot give my soul to you
A perfect friend took it far away from me!
Probably the most enjoyable factor about Beanbag is that they seemingly have gotten their sound (stress the 'their') down comfortably, taking away any uncertainty that bands trying new music may have. The current line-up has, after all, been around since 1996. Guitarist Micheal Mullins adds some notably daring grooves, while drummer Phil Usher provides a sturdy backbone for the noise. The silently essential bass guitar is thumped (as the liner notes say) by Phillip Hirvela, and thus the formation is complete.

I was disappointed on first listen to Free Signal. I'd tremendously enjoyed "Whiplash" (which is the first radio single), and was surprised and somewhat annoyed that the rest of the record does not follow the lead of this song. But Free Signal is a grower, and has now got a firm hold on my stereo. It is an album with universal appeal, drawing from many influences, while also retaining a strong level of creativity, making this a must for any music lover.

Eric Daams

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