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I can’t imagine what Chad Clark felt when, in 2007, he thought he was going to die. That year, the Beauty Pill frontman was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, a rare infection that caused his heart to swell. He had open-heart surgery in 2008 and spent a long time in recovery; the uncertainty must’ve been frightening.
But a great thing happens when you face mortality: You don’t stress as much about nonsense. The will to thrive is still there, but you view life in peace, accepting it as it is. That might explain the euphoric vibe of Beauty Pill’s new album, Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are, the band’s first LP in 11 years. Much of this album was recorded in 2011 in public view at Artisphere’s Black Box Theatre, just three years after Clark’s surgery. So when he opens the recording with a line from 1982 movie Blade Runner—“I want more life, fucker”—it feels like a strong push to move past the setbacks. The line, and the album as a whole, forcefully declares Clark’s resurgence and the band’s: Despite the health struggles and the group’s radio silence, their sound is very much alive.
To that end, Beauty Pill is full of introspective one-liners that are mostly hidden among the album’s dense rhythms. The words don’t directly address Clark’s condition, but they come in waves to reaffirm the musician’s vitality. On “Afrikaner Barista,” Clark’s repetition of the opening statement (“Here again, here again, I’m here, again”) is a form of spiritual praise.
As it plays, the LP moves from standard rock fare—“Drapetomania” and “Afrikaner Barista”—to a surreal aesthetic illustrating the limbo between life and death. Beauty Pill depicts the feeling of purgatory and describes what Clark might have felt in his lowest moments. A track like “Ann the Word” speaks plainly about submitting to fate: Two lovers are trapped in a water-filled car, “and you and I are kissing just the same,” singer Jean Cook croons gently. There’s no panic, she coos, just the freedom of letting go. The same sentiment holds on “Dog with Rabbit in Mouth, Unharmed,” the album’s gorgeous centerpiece. Clark’s pet dog, Lucy, who died of cancer, influenced the song: She came to him in a dream to let him know things would be okay. The track, using stacked percussion, is a transformative reminder to keep life in perspective. No matter your circumstance, Cook sings, “the body’s just cosines and vectors; love is the real health.”
Much like Flying Lotus’ recent album, You’re Dead!, which also examined purgatory, Beauty Pill tackles heavy themes without sounding melancholic. On “Near Miss Stories,” where Clark offers a tongue-in-cheek glance at death and how close we all are to it, a distracted driver fixes her makeup and enjoys the view. “In two miles, she’s gonna die,” Clark sings, “and almost take you with her, too.” Beauty Pill’s melodies are thick and layered, making for a heavy listen. But while the band risks digging too deeply, it ultimately achieves a great balance of esoteric serenity. Life is full of mystery, but Clark is happy in the moment.
Beauty Pill plays a three-night residency at Artisphere April 30-May 2.