Album Premiere: These Beasts – Cares, Wills, Wants
A dedication to the illustrious dead as well as the illustrious living.
Is there anything sadder than a puppy wearing a Plague Doctor mask? And not even a menacing version at that? On the cover of Cares, Wills, Wants, the debut LP from Chicago trio These Beasts, the plague mask has its own hangdog look as the dog wearing it hangs its head. The patch of greyish blue under the black eyehole damn near looks like tears. Cares, Wills, Wants is an album conceived of and created in Pandemic conditions with a ghostly, locked-down Chicago providing the bedrock upon which its brand of groovy, rhythmic, and powerful sludge cum noise-rock is built. And yet, it’s not just the Pandemic or empty cities or our various looming dooms that provides the most apt throughline on Cares, Wills, Wants; it’s friendship. At heart, These Beasts want you to know that, perhaps the best we can do, is survive all this with best friends in tow… even if our best friends have to adorn sad, special facewear.
These Beasts first arrived on the scene with 2016’s Salvor EP, a drunken and swaggering affair chock full of gruff vocals, chunky grunge riffs, and a propulsive rhythm section. Aside from the quick and dirty “Black Friday,” the rest of songs on Salvor take their time, as These Beasts prefer beating you over the head with a certain riff or a certain affect rather than letting you breathe for a second. Fans of Chicago’s Jesus Lizard or Atlanta’s Whores. will find plenty of grist for their bizarro mills on Salvor.
Much the same can be said for the band’s 2019 self-titled EP. The formula hasn’t much changed, though the riffs are markedly heavier and the song-lengths have been trimmed a bit. Want another reference? Imagine Kowloon Walled City’s Container Ships (2012) with slightly more off-kilter vocals. The dual wails of Chris Roo (guitar) and Todd Fabian (bass) find plenty of melody à la a traditional stoner rock band but perhaps as plaintive as Scott Evans’ almost emocore croon. Just let “End of the Whip” and “Luke Warm at Best” iron out any wrinkles in that wet brain of yours. I’m sure there won’t be any lasting damage.
Both the band’s EPs set the table as amuse bouche for Cares, Wills, Wants, a record more expansive in scope yet grounded as ever in the band’s ability to bridge different noise-rock eras. You’ll get plenty of Unsane’s relentless thundering but we’re also wading deep into the waters of Big Business and, by way of the associative property, The Melvins. Cares, Wills, Wants is a more mature record, a wonderful sign that These Beasts is taking their time to craft songs that aren’t just meant to hammer you into the ground before they knock your block off and send it flying 300 yards down the fairway. I mean, they will still do that, but there’s a level of care here that makes this full-length quite striking.
Look no further than album opener “Code Name” for such qualities. Everything weaves together so effortlessly in “Code Names,” as Roo and Fabian are melding their different vocal stylings in a way that is more complementary than on previous efforts. Keith Anderson’s ever-steady skin-slapping is in full effect throughout Cares, Wills, Wants, and it’s his steady hands that really allow for Roo and Fabian to explore their own instruments more deftly and let fly looser and groovier riffing. I’d even call the whole affair downright catchy if you were into that kinda thing.
There’s also the surprisingly tasteful “Blind Eyes” that shines out of the album’s middle. Invoking noted influence Rosetta’s classic Wake/Lift (2006), “Blind Eyes” creates space amidst the more claustrophobic noise-sludge of the rest of the album. To be sure, the track doesn’t lack for heaviness, but there’s an emotional maturity that reflects the band’s songwriting maturity in exquisite fashion. There’s a subtle yet ineffable difference between darkness and bleakness, and I think “Blind Eyes” finds that difference and sits with it, however difficult that might be.
Other standouts include “Cocaine Footprints,” “Nervous Fingers,” and “Southpaw.” You can tell how astutely These Beasts have been studying the Big Business playbook. “Cocaine Footprints” feels like it would’ve shined on a later BB effort such as Command Your Weather, while on “Southpaw” rolling and roiling drums with scaling riffs that aren’t afraid to pick up the pace suddenly and repeatedly slam into huge walls of sludgy murk.
Cares, Wills, Wants ends on the lengthy “Trap Door,” a 7+ minute epic that encapsulates everything These Beasts aim to accomplish on the album. News reports are interjected into a track that barely lets up for its entire run time, providing real-time context for an album borne out of a world historical event that has left us all changed and still changing in unpredictable ways. If you can find time to think at any point during “Trap Door,” which I believe the band wants you to do, you’ll surely start thinking about what you care about, what you have been willed to do, what you want or do not want in your life. You’ll think about how the Plague impacts all that we care for, all that we are willing to consider and re-consider, all that we want to do with our limited time.
Cares, Wills, Wants seems to say, in its earnest presentation of what friendship and camaraderie can mean in such uncertain and horrid times, that we cannot quite know how it will all end even though so much is ending all around us. “Hear you not the rushing sound of the coming tempest,” asks Verney in Mary Shelley’s 1826 plague novel The Last Man, “Do you not behold the clouds open, and destruction lurid and dire pour down on the blasted earth? See you not the thunderbolt fall, and are deafened by the shout of heaven that follows its descent? Feel you not the earth quake and open with agonizing groans, while the air is pregnant with shrieks and wailings,—all announcing the last days of man?” 200 years later, we can certainly feel the effects of an ever-increasing amount of powerful and unpredictable storms, the quaking and burning earth of a melting planet, the shrieks and wails of the dispossessed, the hunted, the trodden, the targeted. Yet, in the future of The Last Man, this is not the case: “No!” responds Verney to his own rhetorical question, “none of these things accompanied our fall!” But that’s just it—there is no predicting what will accompany our fall, particularly if it comes by way of plague and we simply dwindle and dwindle as a species until there is, cruelly and ironically, only one scribe left to write the story for nobody to read.
Before being left all alone, Verney clings to those loved ones still left to him. Verney’s best friend Adrian and niece Clara have drowned. Life, at the end, was sweet with them, though. “Were we not happy in this paradisical retreat?” Verney wonders, just before the last of his worldly loves will vanish. It is the type of question, one imagines, that was on the minds of the three friends comprising These Beasts as they wrote, played, and recorded together during COVID. A foolish spirit of hope and love, as relentless as the band’s pummeling sound, girds one up to face come what may on Cares, Wills, Wants, even if whatever comes doesn’t care about what you want and will do whatever it pleases with us. When we go extinct, let’s go together.