Arts Desk

Beauty Pill Reimagines Franz Nicolay? Believe It

I've kept going back to this track for a few weeks now—and I feel bad I didn't write about it before Franz Nicolay's recent show at the Black Cat. The former Hold Steady member recently released this EP of remixes and re-imaginings of his songs by other artists as a companion to his album Luck and Courage. The lead-off cut—a cover, essentially, of Nicolay's "This Is Not a Pipe"—is credited to D.C.'s own Beauty Pill.

It's true! The last time Beauty Pill released music that could be heard outside of Flashpoint's black box theater, it was 2006, when the band posted the song "Ann the Word" on its MySpace page.

Like Nicolay and the other artists on the EP, Beauty Pill's Jean Cook is a member of Anti-Social Music, a New York City composers and performers collective. When she started working on her contribution to the EP, she ended up bringing in her Beauty Pill bandmate Chad Clark. He sent me a really thoughtful note about making the song, and why they decided to credit it to Beauty Pill:

Within this project, Jean opted to adapt Luck And Courage's "This Is Not A Pipe" to a different arrangement and an (arguably) opposite aesthetic. Myself, I see a statement of admiration in such a radical approach. The statement: a good song is elastic.

As you can hear, Jean's vision was to transmute the intrinsic loneliness of the song into an almost Kompakt-esque dancefloor thing. She set herself about this task in her bedroom studio with a single microphone, her voice and her violin. However, she found that she needed help making beats.

So she called me. She knew the BPM she wanted, she knew the four-on-the-floor microhouse feel she wanted. She just didn't know exactly how to make the beats feel the way she wanted them to.

I'm alright at making beats. I was happy to help.

At this point, I think all concerned were thinking this was a Jean Cook re-interpretation of a Franz Nicolay song.

But then, it came to mix and Jean asked for help again. I'm alright at mixing, y'know? So I said yes again. As I sat down to mix, I was quite impressed with the choices Jean had made. I thought the choice to drop a sustained string quartet tundra in the middle of a dance song was mischievous and inventive.

It took us two days, cumulatively. It was fun. When we were done, it occurred to everyone that since Jean and I had collaborated on the song and the result had a character not unlike the faint futurism people associate with Beauty Pill, that it was not crazy to call it Beauty Pill.

So we did.

The hope built into the design of Unlucky & Discouraged is that, in addition to being an anthological work of its own, it serves as a kind of chiaroscuro satellite to Franz's Luck And Courage, casting a light on the virtues of that album.

That's the real story here: Franz and the soul of his song.

You can pay what you want for Anti-Social Music vs. Franz Nicolay's Unlucky & Discouraged here.

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