It's pretty tough not to be impressed with a musical trajectory like Brandon Rowan's. Back around 2012, he started putting out beat tapes as Birocratic, none of his tracks stretching past the two-and-a-half-minute mark. Still, he showed a knack for carving out infectious grooves, cutting samples and chopping vocals to find unique rhythms and unexplored spaces within the recordings he was repurposing for his instrumental hip-hop jams. Think Dilla by way of a sunny New Jersey bedroom.
An early and influential member of the emergent online beat scene, Birocratic is back with his newest release, Beets 4. Coming on the heels of last year's Replaced EP — which found Rowan crafting songs whole cloth, playing all of the instruments on wholly original tracks for the first time in his career — the fourth entry in Rowan's Beets series is a return to form, albeit without the sag in quality the phrase tends to imply. Rather, while Replaced saw Birocratic proving that he could try something new and relatively different with his trademark approach and still knock it out of the fucking park, Beets 4 shows that exploring a bit of new territory only served to deepen Rowan's familiarity with and fundamental understanding of what was special about what came before it.
More than anything else in his catalogue, Birocratic's Beets 4 feels like a retrospective. If you're familiar with the rest of his work, making your way through Beets 4 is like listening to the spiritual sequels of your favorite Birocratic cuts. Chopped-up vocals samples and instrumental licks will make you swear you're hearing parts of songs that have been featured prominently on other Birocratic tracks in the past, making Beets 4 a release that simultaneously acts as a love letter to everything that preceded it, while never forgetting to chart new territory and explore new depths as Rowan continues to hone his craft and develop his talents.
It's clear that the Replaced experience taught Rowan a lot about structure. If there was anything I could find to complain about in the earlier Birocratic releases, it's that my favorite tracks were over in a minute and a half. Five years later, though, Rowan has learned to craft songs that live and breathe, rise and fall with their own senses of tension and release. This idea was finally brought to complete fruition on Replaced, as the challenge of making songs from scratch left Rowan no choice but to figure out how to create something that lives and moves on its own. What makes Beets 4 so exciting, though, is to see how Biro has folded that new knowledge into the work he's done leading up to Replaced. This newest release makes it clear that Rowan intends to keep pushing his craft forward as he did on his last EP, but Beets 4 succeeds because it makes a point to lovingly look back at everything that fed into its eventual creation while continuing to push in new directions.
Immediate as can be, Beets 4 makes its intentions clear right out of the gate: "Bob Ross Goes to Hollywood" slides into view first with razor edge slices of chopped disco, complimented with bouncing slap bass that eventually melts into a smooth slice of disco funk that Biro smartly garnishes with a dash of trap bass and a sliver of flamenco guitar. Who the fuck even knows how many different songs are at work in the opening track's first couple of minutes, but the end result is as seamless as anything. "Corporate Japan" is maybe the heaviest jam in the entire Birocratic catalogue, taking its time to explore a sampled Koto riff before Biro slices it up, rearranges it, and then hits you over the head with it until you're dancing as hard as you should be.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Beets 4 is its sense of familiarity. Part of me swears I've heard these songs before, but the rest of me knows that there's nothing this accomplished that exists in the Birocratic catalogue. To see an artist grow and mature is always an exciting thing...to see one not only display such a deep understanding of the strength and weaknesses of his own work, but then craft a record that expertly addresses both? Well that's what puts Birocratic in rarified air indeed.