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Clearing things up

Uncovering the real Beulah

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Miles Kurosky has seen himself depicted in the indie-rock press as a curmudgeon and a dictatorial perfectionist. His band, Beulah, has been called "second-string Elephant 6" and, most recently, been cornered and prodded about breakup rumors. Amidst all the hoopla caused by gossip and hearsay, attention to Yoko, the album Beulah released in September on Atlanta-based Velocette Records, has been unfairly eclipsed.

"Too much was made of this whole thing," says Kurosky of the rumored disbanding. "We only said one thing; one thing, once. And everything else is rather cryptic and vague. We made a good record, a fucking great, fucking record. And it shouldn't matter if we're fucking gonna break up or not."

Even while engaged in conversation with a journalist partly responsible for proliferating the breakup binge (through a couple news stories on the Pitchfork website), Kurosky isn't guarded at all; in fact, despite occasional fits of bitterness, he's rather genial and forthcoming. He's so frank that, at one point, he reveals that he based Yoko -- considered by some the new official breakup album for sensitive males -- on his former relationship with Velocette label chief (and daughter of legendary Georgia music exec Phil Walden), Amantha Walden.

While Kurosky's demeanor belies his reputation for being irritable, he fully embraces the tag of domineering obsessive-compulsive. In evidence are his seven attempts at mastering Yoko, and his label's need to wipe fingerprints off CDs and check jewel boxes for cosmetic damage before sending albums out to him. "[Amantha] goes through hundreds of copies to find the most perfect one, because if there's something wrong with one of them, she knows I might freak out for a day or two. Everyone thinks I'm a nutbag."

Minor imperfections aren't the only things that irk Kurosky. The sensitive frontman thinks there's been unfair judgments levied on Beulah's new album. Reviews in places like Pitchfork and Rolling Stone were nitpicky and inconsistent. But Kurosky has built a thick skin toward critics over the course of four albums. "I have been with bands when we are on the road, and they get a bad review and they're just crushed," he says. "I'm not so much crushed, I'm more out for vengeance and I want to slit throats. I'm a different breed."

He charges the rock press with making too much of his band's earlier connections with celebrated Athens music collective, Elephant 6. "When Your Heartstrings Break [Beulah's 1999 release] got panned by a lot of people because it was being compared to Neutral Milk Hotel and Olivia Tremor Control," Kurosky says. "I think that's odd, because we weren't part of the collective ever. Nor did we ever say we were. For us, Elephant 6 was always just a record label, that's all. I don't know those people in Athens at all."

True, Beulah has always been a San Francisco-based sextet, far from Elephant 6's home base. And the group's debut, Handsome Western States, came out on the Elephant 6 label only because Apples in Stereo frontman Robert Schneider (an E-6er) offered to release it. What's more, Beulah's sound is on the far fringes of Elephant 6's stereotypical twee. It's far less psychedelic and more straightforward, with insightful bittersweet lyrics. Both When the Heartstrings Break and its follow-up, The Coast is Never Clear, featured the expansive sounds of booming orchestration.

Yoko, meanwhile, sees Beulah turn toward more plaintive and introspective lyrics, while stepping into more nuanced and metered textures. It's a quantum leap for the group, and if it marks the end of the line, it's a powerful conclusion. Kurosky's personal lyrics on Yoko's last song, "Wipe the Prints and Run," certainly hint at a possible finale. Whether it concludes his relationship with Walden, the band or just the album remains to be seen.

"If, indeed, we break up, or if that's the last record or whatever, I thought it was a good way to end," says Kurosky, who closes the album with the line, "I don't believe in anything/'Cept you my friends."

"The whole record is about my life, lyrically. Musically, all the boys put in more than their two cents. They're amazing. I'm the weakest link in the band."

Indie Rock News Flash: Miles Kurosky is a humble guy.

nikhil.swaminathan@creativeloafing.com

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