Pepper Rabbit wasn’t supposed to be a band. Luc Laurent was supposed to be vocalist Xander Singh’s drummer on a solo effort–or, at least, that’s how it started–when the two were introduced by a mutual friend. Somewhere along the line, from adventures traipsing through India, playing shows, and relocations to New Orleans and, eventually, LA, the two became a collaborative force. With unbounded creativity, a world of experiences and influences, and disregard for genre conventions, 2009 brought two self-released EPs and a record deal. Now we have Pepper Rabbit, and we have Beauregard, a success that fails to sound like a debut, with its compelling musicianship and depth.
The atmospheric, lo-fi folk-pop of Pepper Rabbit is enchanting. Fearlessly combining ethereal, layered vocals with appearances from keyboards, a trumpet, an accordion, clarinets, ukulele, and the recurring pounding drums, Singh and Laurent admirably succeed in creating a sound that simultaneously draws from and mirrors their past worldly adventures and their awe at what the future holds. Beauregard begins with a lethargic clarinet run, looped over itself. Melancholic piano and reverberated vocals come in, and a trumpet soon reinforces the melody. In a sonic style eerily reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel or Beirut, the build continues to the lyrical epitaph of sorts — “To go your own road/Which no one follows/You cannot come back.” Instead of haunting us with words and tales of horrors past like Neutral Milk Hotel, or finding a part for every player like Beirut, Pepper Rabbit looks to the future and strikes an eloquent balance with their diverse assortment of instruments. “Clarinet Song” climaxes with the repetition of “No more patience, no more patience,” — and their own road truly begins.
Following the conclusion of the opening track, upbeat guitar, ukulele, and a trumpet launch “Harvest Moon” into Singh’s triumphant declaration of a complete departure from the past (“You said I see you soon/When black turns to harvest moon/No you don’t; I won’t ever go back”). The toe-tapping melody keeps this imperative from being too heavy. A piano ditty reminiscent of a funeral dirge accompanies lamenting vocals and clarinet on “In the Spirit of Beauregard”. Rapid tempo changes and ascending scales with the introduction of drums interrupt the mournful tune.
The wide variation in compositional elements in these first three songs alone epitomizes what sets Pepper Rabbit apart: their ability to know when less is more. Each song could easily be a full orchestral arrangement, incorporating all of their instrumental talents layered over each other. Each song could pack the punch of Arcade Fire’s “Neighborhood #3” or Beirut’s “Brandenburg”, wowing us with the power of so many components seamlessly becoming one. Instead, each song offers a different combination of instruments, a different dimension of their seemingly endless talent. “Harvest Moon” stays optimistic by sticking to a more traditional, formulaic, percussion-based approach with a folky guitar, and “In the Spirit of Beauregard” remains interesting with atypical crescendo patterns, using mainly a haunting combination of piano and clarinet.
Additionally, this constant change doesn’t cost Pepper Rabbit or Beauregard any consistency in their overall sound and album continuity. “Red Wine” is a testament to the piano ballads of yesteryear, beginning slowly and expressing frustration with a stagnant life (“They go to sleep, and wake again/No change”). A crescendo to a heart-wrenching repetition of “Let’s all cry about you” showcases Singh’s stripped-down vocal talent and discards any notion that Pepper Rabbit hides behinds layered tracks in production.
The single, “Older Brother”, follows a few tracks later and offers poppy folk at its best. Melodies sure to be whistled hours later alongside cheery guitars and sporadic piano epitomize the hopeful attitude woven subtly in and out of each of the previous songs. The penultimate track, “Babette!”, explicitly embodies this happiness with its ukulele and enthused vocals.
Beauregard concludes with “Send in the Horns”, a nearly six-minute jaunt composed of scant vocals, echoing bells, and horns. After such an immensely enjoyable album, we’re all sad to be sent out.