I love discovering new songs, new bands. Over the last decade, I've lost count of the songs and albums I've bought because I first heard snippets on Grey's Anatomy, Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance. Dancing shows, of course, are always highlighting music that complements the moves. And, for a time, Grey's was a prime showcase for emerging artists.
But the two songs featured here came to me down less-obvious paths.
In an episode of The Good Wife, the lead character, Alicia Florek, is trying to get her daughter's attention at one point, but she can't. Her daughter, Grace, has her earbuds in. And she's listening to a pounding track. The show played mere seconds of Beast's "Mr. Hurricane," but it was enough to hook me.
A couple of years later, I had left the videogame I was playing to go get a bowl of cereal. The game was just sitting on its opening menu screen, continuously looping its soundtrack until my return. But as I was pouring milk into my bowl, the music suddenly changed. I rushed back into the TV room. The game had, apparently, gotten tired of waiting for me and had begun playing what looked like a trailer for the game, BioShock Infinite. The graphics were dizzying—two characters battling enemies while traversing a city high in the clouds—but it was the music that kept me in the room: "Beast" by Nico Vega.
Beast and "Mr. Hurricane"
Beast was formed in the mid-2000s by two French musicians living in Canada, vocalist Beatrice Bonifassi and musician/producer Jean-Phi Goncalves. While each had had separate success, they discovered that something unique happened when they came together. Their music as a duo was darker, angrier, heavier than what they had previously produced. The name "Beast" was apt: They were giving voice to something primal.
They began working on an album in 2006. The self-titled Beast was released in 2008, and the lead single was "Mr. Hurricane," a thrilling combination of trip-hop accompaniment, rapped/sung vocals, and an infectious choir-backed chorus.
"I thought I was a victim / That people hated me / I never had a homeland / I had no safety," Bonifassi's overdriven voice sings at the start. "Can you imagine livin' one more day / With a beast right up in your face?"
This woman clearly cannot. All of that tension and victimization slips away in the chorus, where Bonifassi responds to every statement from her backing choir with what feels like a triumphant wave of her hand:
"(Broke out of the harness) Let it go, let it go / (Crumbled in the darkness) Turn on the light, ya'll / (Overcame the madness) Then take your pills / (Finally you're righteous) I love the beast, ya'll."
The duo have said in interviews that the entire album is very personal, that they were finding a musical approach that would allow them to explore—and release—some of the darkest aspects of their past relationships. This understanding can help transform one's appreciation of a song like "Mr. Hurricane," which at first may seem to make little sense.
"I stopped being the victim / But you weren't there to see / I never felt bitter / Till you crippled me." And then, just before the final round of choruses: "Now I scream till the end of the day: / Never again, Mr. Hurricane."
And never again, Beast.
After the release of the Beast album, and a Grammy nomination for the "Mr. Hurricane" music video (Warning: bees), the band announced in 2011 that they were taking a "hiatus." Bonifassi and Goncalves have not released any recordings together since.
Nico Vega and "Beast"
Whereas "Mr. Hurricane" is a personal statement of defiance, Nico Vega's "Beast" is a public one, specifically one made on behalf of all of those people who cannot stand up for themselves.
Nico Vega, a trio, formed in L.A. in 2005. Today, the band consists of vocalist Aja Volkman, guitarist Rich Koehler, and drummer Dan Epand. Although their output has been sporadic over the years, the band is still together, still making music.
The original version of "Beast" came out in 2006, but there have been multiple versions released since then (on various EPs and one album). The version that broke through—due largely to its use in the widespread ad campaign for BioShock Infinite, one of the highest-rated games of the year—was released in 2013.
BioShock Infinite is a first-person shooter set in 1912—but a 1912 that only exists in imagination. It is a place where the people of Columbia, a floating city high in the clouds in an alternate-universe America, are beautiful, always happy, and supremely devoted to their founders and current leader.
They are also, oddly, all white.
As the shiny, colorful veneer gets pulled away, though, it becomes clear that Columbia's core is corrupt, its citizens gleefully celebrating racism, a history of slavery, and violence toward anyone who threatens the status quo (which, of course, means you, the player).
The pounding modern-rock "Beast" was a match made in...well, Columbia. It sums up the anger of all of those standing in opposition to such corruption.
"Stand tall for the people of America / Stand tall for the man next door / We are free in the land of America / We ain't goin' down like this!" Volkman shouts/sings, over a brutal, thumping beat and with what sounds like every ounce of her being.
Where we find that strength to stand is spelled out in the song's bridge section. "I will be right to you / And together we can stand up to the beast," Volkman sing-speaks. "Suppression is a motherf*cking prison / So I hand you the key to your cell / You've got to love your neighbor / Love your neighbor / And let your neighbor love you back / Come on, now!"
"Beast" is not a deep song. It doesn't reward much critical thinking in the way that "Mr. Hurricane" might. But its "power to the people" rallying cry is never outdated (unfortunately). And it is delivered with such ferocity and conviction—fury, even—that it blows me away every time. (Check out the video.)