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Narrow Minded: Alec Beretz’s ‘Divided’ album review

Trevor Whitney

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Divided.jpg

Cover art for Alec Beretz’s debut album, “Divided.” Photo courtesy of Alec Beretz.

In my travels across the land, searching far and wide, I stumbled upon Chico State senior Alec Beretz’s debut album “Divided,” named for the feeling it is supposed to produce after listening to it.

That’s not true, but it’s certainly the way I’ve felt ever since.

Beretz, a music industry and technology major, quietly uploaded the 13-track album to his Soundcloud three weeks ago. It was a loose-concept album and if there were a genre it would fit into, it would be experimental, he said.

Almost no research into experimental music has provided me with more insight than this fabulous PDF of an address made by avant-garde and experimental music pioneer John Cage in 1957.

On the first page, Cage mentions that there is an “essential difference between making a piece of music and hearing one.” This realization transformed Cage into a listener first and foremost, and sounds became things to hear instead of things to merely control. Making experimental music allowed him to embrace the natural beauty of sound and to freely write whatever he thinks sounds good.

I’m not trying to say that Beretz is similar to Cage because he isn’t. There’s just this familiar sense of freedom in his writing that he might have gotten from having that listener’s perspective.

When sounds are just sounds, listeners don’t have expectations or biases because they don’t know what’s going on. They’re more open to being led down whatever path they’re supposed to take. Unless, of course, the bias is against sounds being sounds.

“Divided” is successful because it’s free-flowing. After hearing so many of Beretz’s different ideas on the album, I really felt like I had gone somewhere at the end.

That being said, a divide exists because some tracks work extremely well and others don’t really belong at all. “Morning Train” is my favorite track on the album and “Tripadelic Powerslap” is my least favorite for this very reason.

“Morning Train” is great because it represents everything the album is about in one track. It’s complete, it transitions smartly and unexpectedly throughout and it tells a story. I love how the guitar starts accenting upbeats at 1:27 to hint at a shift into reggae, but it doesn’t fully until 45 seconds later. The subtle changes build momentum, making the track feel like it’s always going somewhere.

“Tripadelic Powerslap” doesn’t. Which is unfortunate because I initially skipped right to it because of the track name. The intro is strong and builds interest, but it’s all lost when the track doesn’t really offer anything different outside of a guitar solo and a few oddly placed “Fight Club” quotes. I don’t know if it felt repetitive because it was repetitive, or if it was just overlong. If the track were cut short into more of an interlude, I think it would be much more successful.

Overall, I think it just comes down to liking Beretz’s more psychedelic, alternative and reggae production more than its lightsaber-heavy counterpart.

But seriously, if you play “Powerslap” while watching this with the sound off, you’ll gain a new appreciation for it. I know I did.

Negatives aside, Beretz’s debut turned out to be a tasty blend of Beck, Arctic Monkeys, Pinback and Hendrix with a reggae twist — and nothing short of experimental.

Beretz made what he wanted to make, and that’s all that really matters. As Cage said, writing music is “simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and one’s desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord.”

Trevor Whitney can be reached at [email protected] or @nicegrandmas on Twitter.

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Narrow Minded: Alec Beretz’s ‘Divided’ album review