Beat Rhythm Fashion – Critical Mass (Failsafe) (Album Review)

Beat Rhythm Fashion, Wellington “Post-punk”, “Terrace Scene” trio formed in 1980, dissolved in ’82 and reformed in 2018. Critical Mass is the band’s second long player since reuniting.

Originally, Beat Rhythm Fashion was the brainchild of brothers Dan and Nino Birch, who, with drummer Glen Stewart, released three highly-revered singles before dissolving in ’82. Andrew Schmidt describes them in AudioCulture as one of Wellington’s “best-remembered, but least known bands”.

Caroline Easther drummed for them during their final months in ‘82 before going on to play with The Verlaines, Let’s Planet and The Chills.

Sadly, vocalist and bassist Dan Birch died in 2011 but brother Nino, who now lives off the grid in Australia, and Caroline have revived the act with Failsafe Records founder Rob Mayes producing, playing bass and releasing the CDs.

Tenterhook was released in 2019 and now we have reached Critical Mass.

The album was recorded remotely over the past five years as Mayes, a Christchurch native, is now based in Tokyo, Nino is somewhere in Aussie and Caroline is in New Zealand. Of course the pandemic didn’t help speed things along.

But here it is, just in time for New Zealand Music Month.

From the beginning, Beat Rhythm Fashion has been compared (favourable) with The Cure, and I can hear it here, but to these ancient ears, I also hear a bit of Al Stewart in Nino’s voice.

The songwriting, especially the lyrics, is uniformly strong throughout the 11 tracks. Nino addresses global politics on opener Fall & Rise Again. The line “One nation’s crime is another’s sovereign position” seems to ring especially true among the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

No Wonder, the current single, continues the vibe as Nino’s lilting voice questions the past, noting, “It’s no wonder we’re where we are now”. Musically this one sticks with the listener and its wistful air makes for a profound listening experience.

As the album progresses, the mood get decidedly more positive and the music more propulsive. Exit Here, in particular, builds up a nice head of steam.

The following song,  Asylum, is a plea for peace and the final three tracks all allow a glint of hope to shine on what could be a dark world view.

Last song, Doubt Benefit, even goes as far as claiming “All we need is love” as the Nino and the band get a bit Britpoppy on us…a kinder, gentler Oasis.

Critical Mass doesn’t break in any new musical territory but Nino Birch is a songwriter who has something to say, with his unique “outside observer” view of the world, and he and his bandmates say it well.

Marty Duda

Critical Mass is available on hi-resolution digital download & Deluxe CD from Bandcamp and the Failsafe Webstore now.

Failsafe Webstore

Failsafe Bandcamp –

BRF Bandcamp-