Beat Connection’s new album works well as a collection of contemporary pop songs, compact and catchy jams built of bubbly synths, thumping bass and strong vocals. Which is enough: You could stop reading now, download Product 3 and dance to it around your living room. But Beat Connection positions the album as more than a collection of songs; as its title suggests, they’ve self-consciously released a piece of art-as-content and provoked some serious questions about the way we consume culture in 2015.
The songs themselves carry easily digested themes of love, infatuation, insecurity and isolation. Lead singer Tom Eddy injects just enough soulful inflection to stand out from the music without overwhelming it—an ideal frontman for a band that’s as much a work of conceptual art as a group of musicians. The same could be said for drummer Jarred Katz and bassist Mark Hunter—these guys are talented cogs in a highly efficient pop-music machine, beholden to the groove to the point of invisibility. The parts they play serve the collective whole; don’t forget Beat Connection began with two college kids with laptops in a bedroom and has grown into a full-fledged, world-touring band without significantly altering its sound.
That sound weds ’80s R&B and ’00s electronica to create an elegant sensuality that’s both vaguely retro and wholly of the moment. If there’s a sonic touchstone, it’s Janet Jackson circa Control as altered by an able tinkerer with an Ableton setup. Melodies glide, rhythms percolate, all is electronically enhanced and buffed to a smooth gloss. Between Eddy’s irresistible vocal delivery and keyboardist/producer Reed Juenger’s glistening synths, tracks like “Another Go Round,” “So Good” and “Illusion” are readymade dancefloor classics. “Reality Television” fades in and out as if flanged by an invisible DJ before breaking into a batucada-style percussion breakdown, Eddy’s vocals (“Wait ’til I get my step!”) processed into abstraction. “Rosealene” is Eddy’s most straightforward vocal entreaty but toward the end the song bursts into rough electronic dissonance, delicately and tastefully balanced.
The mastermind here is Juenger, who’s been at the helm of Beat Connection for all of its five years. Juenger operates in the uber-architect mode coined by current Scandinavian hitmakers like Dr. Luke and Stargate; Beat Connection is equal parts his house band and an ongoing experiment in pop art.
And so the title. Product 3 can only be read as a description of how the band envisions itself, where they believe the music fits into the marketplace. By pointing out their own commodification they get away with commodifying themselves; in all its suave accessibility, this music is nothing if not ideal soundtrack material for gender-agnostic Superbowl ads and market-tested millennial rom-coms. (Maybe that’s explains song titles like “Ad Space” and “Reality TV.”) There’s no shame in that, not anymore. Now there’s genius to it, in fact, both in terms of career longevity and in outpunking the punks. Beat Connection is pretty and polished, sure, but they’re also smart. They’re making an art out of commerce.