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If Beach Boys influences make the summertime record, then Beulah’s 2001 LP, The Coast Is Never Clear, was as summery as they come. Comfy close harmonies, wacky Smile-y instrumentation, and lots of sun, sand, and surf references—it was all there. But more impressive was the way the music’s hooky tunefulness and the lyrics’ cockeyed optimism tickled your ears with a real sense of summer’s open-ended possibility. My, how the seasons have changed: Everything about the San Francisco sextet’s latest, Yoko, is winter—and it’s all discontent. “Landslide Baby” succinctly details the new mind-set, in words attributed to singer Miles Kurosky’s ex: “‘Cause you’re scared and you’re weak and you don’t give a fuck about me/And I do believe you hate yourself.” Goodness. No wonder any song on Yoko not about the big breakup is about trying not to crack up: It’s all despondency and fragmentation, in both the lyrics and, more distressingly, the music. Beulah has thrown out its zingy string ‘n’ horn-decorated arrangements and Coppertone frivolities in favor of a darker, sparer, more guitar-based sound. Revved-up and frowned-down, songs such as “My Side of the City” and “Your Mother Loves You Son” sound almost tough—which is exactly why the tracks are among Yoko’s weakest. The lovely “Hovering” plays more to Beulah’s strengths: Slipping in some of the harmonies and strings of yore, plus a bridge right off Abbey Road, it’s a wry and wistful tale of a relationship up in the air in which the only thing worse than the pain of separation is the anticipation of the flight-delayed reunion. Sadly, Yoko offers nothing else quite so well-turned: If it’s not middling alt-rock by the nü-Beulah numbers, it’s a wretched dud like “Me and Jesus Don’t Talk Anymore,” a show-tune-ish near-parody of the old Beulah sound—and it still could have used more ba-da-bas. Lyrically and sonically, Yoko is the work of a band running away from its own style. It’s not yet official that this, the group’s fourth album, will also be its last, but it sure sounds that way. —Todd Hitchcock