The LA-based duet of vocalist Juliette Beavan and her multi-instrumentalist husband Sean bring a lot of collective talent to the table – including Sean's prior work with Nine Inch Nails, Slayer and Marilyn Manson, and a Grammy nomination – so it's no surprise that the kickstarter campaign to finance their new album Between the Devil and Two Black Hearts was a huge success: not only did Manson himself donate to the campaign, but so did numerous other artists – among them industrial music icon Danny Lohner, novelist Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale), and several actors including Law & Order's Jill Hennessy. With such a wide range of supporters in their ranks, I knew I had to check out their first real breakthrough studio album... and to be honest, I couldn't resist seeing more of Juliette, who is just as stimulating to the eye as to the ear – so much, in fact, that she was picked to model the fashion line Stop Staring (along with Nicole Kidman and Eva Mendes). With that said, I'll stop staring and try to stay on topic.
Based mainly on a surreal fusion of slick, sensual electro-rock and gritty, bluesy guitars, 8MM's style is kind of tough to categorize... and that's exactly why they wanted to create this record on their own terms: “We refuse to believe that we must dip ourselves in sugar and plastic of a color that a corporate image consultant chooses,” says Juliette. Even so, Sean does offer up his own enigmatic description of the band's sound, dubbing it “PJ Harvey and Led Zeppelin go the desert and end up at a rave in a David Lynch movie.” Now that I've spun this record a couple of times, I'd say that's a pretty good call, although I'm also hearing a strong thread of Fleetwood Mac in there, assuming that band had gone down a way, way darker path.
While the themes of these eight songs are grandly haunting, the delivery is intimate and full of raw passion – no doubt due to the Beavans' decision to record the tracks in their own home. “We have a piano in our bedroom,” Sean explains. “I can get up in the middle of the night and play a melody that is in my head and Juliette will get up with a pen in hand and tell me what she sees.” That connection is the glue that keeps this wild collage of genres together, as you can see and hear in this excerpt from a series of bedroom performances (no, not that kind, you pervos) at Antiquiet.com, featuring the tight bump-and-grind electro groove “Around the Sun,” one of the album's most memorable tracks.
Sean's vocals, which until recently had remained mostly in the background, now bring the same game as Juliette's, and from the opening/title track you can tell how the vocal elements balance each other. The dark, pulsing atmosphere created by the electronics lends more weight to their combined voices, and is matched in power by a bluesy slide guitar; the same formula is used to even greater effect in “The Weight of You,” which joins “Around the Sun” as one of my all-time 8MM faves. Electro-pop elements step up to the forefront in cuts like “You Brought the Fire,” and while tracks like “Everybody Says” fall a bit more into the realm of the standard pop ballad, there's more personality and depth to the songwriting and performance than a dozen higher-profile radio tracks, and even the dreamy romanticism of “Glimmering” is packed with steamy tension. When they truly kick out the jams on tracks like “Kin,” they prove repeatedly how well they could blow the doors off a big live venue.
There are a lot of awesome DIY artists out there, but only a choice few can bring this kind of raw power and sexual energy to a full spectrum of genres and styles. Now I totally understand why 8MM's fans were happy to dig into their own pockets to make this project happen, and next time around I think I'll throw a little cash into the pot myself. After listening to the Antiquiet sessions, I'm also convinced this band has to take their music to the stage in a big way... and thanks to the fundraising campaign exceeding all expectations (they brought in almost ten thousand dollars above their goal of $30,000), that's finally going to happen too.