Album: Oh, Mayhem!

Artist: Bettie Serveert

Label: Second Motion

Release Date: October 22, 2013

BEttie Serveert Oh Mayhem


 Twenty years as recording artists, with a catalog now ten records deep, Amsterdam’s Bettie Serveert have sustained an underground career. In the Nineties they flirted with wider popularity with albums like their debut Palomine (with the college radio fave “Tomboy”) and Dust Bunnies. Landing a poignant take of Dylan’s ‘I’ll Keep it with Mine” on the I Shot Andy Warhol soundtrack also increased their profile.

 But they never broke, despite the fact that Carol Van Dyk is simply one of the most versatile, arresting singers working today, moving effortlessly from scorn to sweetness, and guitarist Peter Visser is a consummate, versatile rock guitarist. It’s no wonder, really. Bettie Serveert was not a noise merchant like Sonic Youth, not slacker celebrants like Pavement, and they were certainly not grunge (the dominant indie idiom at the time of their emergence). Untrendy, Bettie Serveert reveled in songcraft derived from Lou Reed and Chrissie Hynde, and played like descendants of the Velvets and Crazy Horse. They played classic rock of a sort, but without clichés or arthritis.

 Their greatest record, Log 22, a near perfect, and perfectly sequenced pop song cycle from 2003, barely caused a ripple. When I saw them at SXSW in 2004 supporting Log 22 it was one of the best rock shows I’d ever witnessed. I left amazed that the performance was for an audience numbering two hundred.

 On the other hand, here they are. Still playing, still thriving musically, as their new release Oh, Mayhem! demonstrates. After the slightly more manicured pop of Attagirl, Mayhem, like its immediate predecessor, 2010’s Pharmacy of Love, finds the band loose and rocking, recording the album mostly live in the studio.

 Mayhem’s highlights include “Had2Byou,” a slice of swinging pop perfection clocking in at 2:24. It’s a modernized Merseybeat beauty, not unlike the best of Teenage Fanclub, a charmer that just won’t quit. In stark contrast a song like “Monogamous” is chilling – a feedback-laden exploration of the ravage and heartache born of a wandering eye – brutally frank, but aching. Van Dyk’s bluesy phrasing plays with and against the storm of howling guitars, led by the ever concise and biting Visser.

 “Receiver” follows “Monogamous,” sustaining the dark mood. Van Dyk’s repeated phrase “I know you lie” hypnotizes, while the band hammers a chord progression borrowed from Spencer Davis’s classic “I’m a Man.” “Loser Track” is a showcase for Visser’s talents. He’s absorbed every lick Lou and Sterling ever played, but he also shows flashes of guitarists from Jorma Kaukonen to J. Mascis. The song is essentially a vamp, but between Visser’s and Van Dyk’s insinuating vocal the track clicks, even if it’s not the best song on the record. “iPromise” evokes the sweet rocking sounds of the Searchers.

 Bettie Serveert have always trafficked beautifully in lovely melancholy, and this melodic, varied and rocking collection joins a long list of fine records from the Dutch band. If you’re a fan there’s every reason to seek it out. If you’re not yet, there’s every reason to give a listen.

  DOWNLOAD: “Had2BYou,” “Monogamous,” “Loser Track” 



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