REVIEW: beagles - beagles

Kelly Kirwan

"My neighbor is a drug dealer."

It’s a wry observation, and a slice of the cheeky, lo-fi attitude that defines beagles’ fresh-pressed, self-titled record. Spreading from Portland’s airwaves to indie soundboards coast to coast, Michael Todd Berland’s music is vocally layered, intimate, and sleepy in the way it rocks back and forth, seeing the world for all its monotonies and imperfections through wide, puppy-dog eyes. The single, "my neighbor is a drug dealer," is a series of details that are actually quite personal despite the impassive tone in which they’re told. “My mother is a secretary / She talks on the phone / And dreams about home … I want to go to Boston / Live in a house that’s haunted,” Berland sings, giving each and every syllable its due. We imagine him watching his neighbor do quick slips of the hand—ziplock baggies inside—as Berland watches from the bedroom, feeling stuck, a little melancholy, and lost in a labyrinth of getaway scenarios.

The song’s music video was directed by Brian Kinnes, and pulsates with a '90s, emo-alternative aesthetic. It’s primarily composed of shots of Berland, watermelon chunk in hand, wandering around suburbia singing listlessly from inside the film’s pink frame. His tufts of jet-black hair and yellow rain poncho evoke the quirkiness of Edward Scissorhands, made into a real boy. It's hugely endearing.

"microwave light" leans more towards the acoustic in its guitar play. It’s a slyly intricate song (self-referential, even) that at first listen sounds like a nursery rhyme that’s grown up—simple repetition paired with observations of a world that’s a little grittier than we’re first taught to believe. "Leaky faucet / Dirty carpet / Write love letters on dirty garbage," Berland sings monotonously before the song breaks, its second half splitting into a much more serene, twinkling, rock-a-bye number. It’s two songs in one, bookended with a little bit of Nietzschean insight, as "Michael dog eyes look at / Microwave light / Microwave light looks at Michael’s dog eyes."

Then there’s "canker sore," a ditty that very may well have come from Berland messing around in his room, frustrated by the titular affliction. It’s a faint, layered track, that once again has that intimate string plucking so often found in the world of bedroom guitars. The lyrics are lightweight and free-associative, untethered and free to flit on to the next subject without explaining themselves, “Canker sore conversation / I do not like them / Small talk conversations / I do not like them/ All my friends spent their summers / With someone they met on Tinder.” It’s an airing of life’s tiny grievances, a bit of bitching that’s undeniably relatable, set to a sweet melody.

beagles is a modern day observer, whose unique spin on the otherwise ordinary or mundane gives merit to his artistic standing. Berland doesn’t need the grand, sweeping moments in life to make music—he’s just as easily inspired and swayed by things we would otherwise overlook. It’s that plastic-bag-floating-in-the-wind school of beauty that beagles won’t let us miss.