Reading the liner notes to Girly, his full-length debut under the moniker of Featured, one might imagine that acclaimed musician/producer Julian Beeston has a few chips on his shoulder regarding the circumstances of his impressive resume; renowned for his involvement in such bands as Nitzer Ebb, Cubanate, Die Krupps, Chemlab, and more, it’s clear that his production and songwriting talents were not given a proper outlet to flourish… until now. With an ample catalog of material written over the years, Featured showcases his distinct brand of alternative and electronically-driven rock, recalling the exploratory days of the mid-‘90s when machines were dubiously infused with the raging fire of the human soul. On the appropriately titled Girly, that soul is decidedly female as Beeston has gathered an enclave of some of this generation’s most exciting vocal talents, picking up where the We the People EP indicated the project would be taking us.
Returning from that EP is I Ya Toyah’s Ania Tarnowska, her melodious performance on “Higher Than the Sun” perhaps surpassing that of “We the People” as her vocal bravado soars above the pulsing groove of chugging guitars and warbling synths. The same can be said of songs like “Stitched Up,” “Meltdown,” and “Hysteria,” in which Christine Olsen’s bluesy yet biting timbre adds a distinctly hip-shaking, fist-pumping fury that makes for some abrasively catchy and anthemic choruses, while Mia FluxXx’s boisterous delivery accentuates the political swagger in lines like “Just ‘coz Ameri ‘can’ don’t mean Ameri ‘should’” on “Ameri Can” and the need for escape that resounds in the ominous “Somewhere Else,” both serving up white hot dishes of industrial/rock fire. The darkly insistent rhythms and trippy electronics of “Shelter” and “Satellite” evoke the Songs of Faith and Devotion era of Depeche Mode as Livvy Holland’s emotive voice seeming flutters along with the layers of synthesized strings, while the defiant hard rocking tone of “Come and Get It” with Sabrina Love’s roars of “Boom boom shake the room,” and Andrea Kerr’s sultry and saccharine voice atop trancelike bass and a screaming slide guitar in the coda accentuate the darkly pop sensibilities of a song like “Horizon.” Sadly, Girly seems to lose a bit of steam in the last few tracks as the psychedelic pop flairs of “Break Free” and the sparkling electro grooves of “Without You” just feel lightweight and anticlimactic against the livelier bulk of the record, although this isn’t to say that Paul Gilmer and Whitney Tai don’t deliver some marvelous vocal performances.
With some added assistance from the likes of Steve White, Dean Garcia, Melissa Evila, and others, Girly is as strong an exhibition of Beeston’s pedigree as a musician and producer as the preceding We the People EP. The familiarity of the artist’s style adherent to the sounds that he helped to forge is less of a hindrance with the understanding that these songs had been written and developed in the years since then, though it will be nice to hear if Beeston will take Featured into different territories on future releases. Still, one would be hard-pressed to find fault with Girly, especially with such a contingent of formidable vocalists adorning Beeston’s celebrated musical abilities. Crude though it may be to say, it must be put simply that Featured’s Girly has balls!