The Portland Phoenix

Music: Dead Gowns get transitory ephemeral with ‘How’ EP

Dead Gowns (Photo by Hilary Eyestone)

A band’s first “tour” could be pretty rough around the edges even before the pandemic. Now? 

“We’re doing a mix of house shows,” says Geneviéve Beaudoin, of Dead Gowns, on the phone from Alabama. “Some DIY spaces. It’s great to see the Apohadion Theater of other cities around the country. We played some proper venues in Texas. Tonight, we’ll be in a hotel bar. I don’t know. It’s your first time hearing Dead Gowns in all of these cities, so wherever they want us to play, we’ll play.”

Even so, there’s a managing of expectations. The band’s brand-new single, “Renter Not a Buyer,” has been getting some listens out there, for good reason. But that’s a full band number, with crashing drums and some power indie pop, and on the road right now it’s just Beaudoin and Luke Kalloch, both of them on guitars, his a baritone. 

“Inevitably it’s softer, because it’s just a duo,” Beaudoin says. “It’s more a soundscape around the lyrics (compared to) a rhythmic force.” But for this project, that alternate existence makes perfect sense. The four songs of the “How” EP offer explorations of self and identity, the slippery nature of the truth of our individual situations. 

In just the past four years, after all, Beaudoin has released an EP as Dead Gowns, a three-song EP with Spencer Albee as Bell Systems, and then in 2020 a single from each project. A renter not a buyer indeed. How else are we to behave nowadays? “I don’t stay long / it don’t matter,” Beaudoin sings, in a voice that can break and tear at itself, “how the floorboards creak.” This is not a time for sweating the details. 

Often, she says, the “you” in these songs is herself, the record functioning as a way for her to reckon with her feelings on issues like living with chronic pain — endometriosis, the “St. Endo” of the Bell Systems record — what she’s doing with her life, whether this Dead Gowns band is a real thing. They are songs that demanded to be recorded, edging out an in-progress group of songs destined for an LP when she scored a grant to record with Nick Johnson at PRISM Analog. 

“It’s looking at different points, maybe in my 20s,” she says, “of just pivoting, and just accepting that pivot. I left that job. I moved out of that city. I let go of that idea or dream and switched to a new one. And I actually think — not to sound cheesy — I do think it’s about choosing to really give Dead Gowns a go. I had a lot of anxiety and self doubt about these songs.” 

Just watch the “Renter Not a Buyer” video, artfully put together by Emilie Sylvestri and her team, where Beaudoin is cast about by life, but ultimately finds herself with a chance to start all over. 

The EP’s middle tracks, “How You Act” and “Change Your Mind” have more than a little Sharon Van Etten to them, more downtempo and languid, Beaudoin hushed and right next to your ear, vulnerable and contemplative. There are times when the syllables are so drawn out you can’t quite make out the words, but in the finish of “How You Act,” with Brett DesChenes’ flugelhorn fluttering and the organ droning, it really doesn’t matter. You get the idea. 

Dead Gowns – How EP

And when Beaudoin’s diction is particularly crisp, dropping to just a whisper in the final syllable of a line like “I took too long to talk to you”? Watch out. The heart can skip a beat. 

“Maybe there are elements of stuff that was happening in my life when I wrote it that were relational,” Beaudoin says, “but then I look at the lyrics and think, ‘That was a note to myself.’”

Nowhere does that come across more clearly than in “Real Life,” the EP’s closer and its heart. Ricardo Lagomasino gives us an anxious snare in the open as Beaudoin chastises us: “Stop walking in rings / You came here to say what you think.” Her vocals are doubled, with just the slightest delay in the left channel, an echo of doubt. 

But then that’s all shuttled to the side as Kalloch brings in that swampy baritone guitar, artfully subtle in its economy of notes, like Nels Cline. It’s sludgy and dainty all at once, a thick atmosphere of emotion: “And I swooped down in circles to find / The baby in my arms, but it wasn’t mine.” 

The lead single is so strong it will likely find its way into playlists, and that’s great. But getting here to the conclusion of these 14 minutes of songs should deliver a lot more satisfaction — and confidence that Beaudoin has indeed found her direction. 

Sam Pfeifle can be reached at 

Dead Gowns + Huntress & Holder of Hands + Louisa Stancioff | SPACE, 538 Congress St., Portland | Nov. 11 | 8 p.m. | $12 adv, $15 day of

“So Evil” single by Bensbeendead.

2 weeks, 5 songs

Bensbeendead. – “So Evil” | Just before Halloween hit, Ben released another in a string of catchy electro-pop singles, this time leaning into the title’s theme with a caustic chorus: “How come all these people seem to know who they are, but I’m lost?” Not sure anyone’s delivering more consistently strong material in Maine right now. 

Joseph Gallant – “My Kind of Wild” | Of the Mainers in Nashville, no one has embraced pop country like Gallant, and “she’s a tank top hanging off a limb, skinny dipping” probably makes more sense after a few solo cups worth of beer. 

Andrew Thomas – “Shadows” | A sort of orchestral prog, with a touch of emo, Thomas here is a bit down in the mouth: “I’m tired of crying every day.” Some nice cello work, though. 

SeepeopleS – “Lots of People” | Full of big sound, intricate and involved, there’s a chaos here fitting for the dystopian theme of the full-length “Field Guide for Survival in this Dying World.” This is a great one for zoning out, a la Pink Floyd. The “lots of people” chanting in the finish is haunting. 

Seth Gallant and His Guitar – “Keep it Lean” | A lot of folkies might play this piece at a quicker pace, but Gallant holds it back and lends it some gravitas and regret, the mandolin a bright spot. Catch him at Blue on Nov. 4.

— Sam Pfeifle

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