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Beat Circus biography
Beat Circus was formed in Boston, Massachusetts by singer/songwriter, and only constant member since their inception, Brian Carpenter in 2002. The band incorporates progressive rock with a plethora of other musical styles such as cabaret, Appalachian string music, bluegrass, circus music and southern gospel into their own singular style. The band's debut album released in 2004 and entitled Ringleader's Revolt was an exercise in instrumental group improvisation. However, it was with their third incarnation with the addition violist Jordan Voelker, guitarist Andrew Stern, bassist Paul Dilley, tubist Ron Caswell, violinist Paran Amirinazari, and drummer Gavin McCarthy of their second album that they really started getting recognition. Their second album, Dreamland (2008), with a 150 page through-composed score for nine musicians, was the first installation of Carpenter's Weird American Gothic Trilogy, which continued in 2009 with Boy From Black Mountain. The trilogy is loosely based on turn-of-the-century Coney Island which burned in a devastating fire in 1911.

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BEAT CIRCUS discography

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BEAT CIRCUS top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.07 | 5 ratings
Ringleader's Revolt
3.04 | 6 ratings
3.91 | 7 ratings
Boy From Black Mountain

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Showing last 10 reviews only
 Boy From Black Mountain by BEAT CIRCUS album cover Studio Album, 2009
3.91 | 7 ratings

Boy From Black Mountain
Beat Circus Prog Folk

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

4 stars Following two decent albums that nonetheless sound at times like samplers, Brian Carpenter and the Beat Circus sound finally congeal into something both cohesive and eminently memorable. 'Boy From Black Mountain' reveals Carpenter's A-League game, both completing his "Weird American Gothic" trilogy and announcing the arrival of a serious contender for the next great American music icon.

The previous albums 'Dreamland' and 'Ringleader's Revolt' primarily tackled subjects of fairly obscure United States history as well as absurd vignettes centered around themes of circuses, vaudeville and a time when Americans were as naïve as they were brash and indefatigably optimistic and blithe about their harsh but promising existence. This time around the subject matter is a bit darker, but every bit as energetic and uncompromising.

Carpenter took his young autistic son as inspiration for much of this material, and his compassionate yet stalwart sense of love and survival come through poignantly on the gorgeous title track and on "Saturn Song" ("boy from Saturn, he doesn't deal too well with crowds?").

Elsewhere he spins the hard yarn of a watermelon-farming family ("The Life You Save May be your Own"); a docile coal miner ("Petrified Man"); and a brash country kid turned gunslinger facing down his brother's murderer ("The Quick and the Dead"), all set to steam- train chugging rhythms with a musical heartbeat befitting the millions who toiled to create their nation.

Carpenter surrounds himself with a remarkable cast of stellar musicians, most notably the flawless violinist Paran Amirinazari, violist Jordan Voelker and Girls Guns and Glory string bassist Paul Dilley. Andrew Stern of Boston trio Fat Little Bastard delivers on guitar and banjo, while Doug LaRosa (trombone), Ron Caswell (tuba) and Gavin McCarthy (drums) anchor the delightful collage of sounds. Carpenter himself does most of the singing when he's not blasting his trumpet or playing harmonica, harmonium accordion and piano. To a man and woman each member delivers with superb professionalism and passion. The octet shows their chops most concisely on the four instrumental tracks, particularly the closing "Lullaby for Alexander". Former Rasputina cellist Julia Kent, folk-chanteuse Larkin Grimm and former Zorgina vocalist Ellen Santaniello also make guest appearances.

I could go on for quite a while about each track on this album, but would have to preface that exercise with a spoiler alert, and frankly any fan of genuine Americana music deserves to experience the album for themselves. I can't quite bring myself to tag this one a masterpiece, but it sure as hell is about as close as you can get and who know, maybe time will prove me wrong. Four out of five stars and very enthusiastically recommended. Try Beat Circus on for size, you won't regret the trip.


 Ringleader's Revolt by BEAT CIRCUS album cover Studio Album, 2004
3.07 | 5 ratings

Ringleader's Revolt
Beat Circus Prog Folk

Review by Sean Trane
Special Collaborator Prog Folk

3 stars Debut album from this rather unstable group, where Brian Carpenter is the leader and main songwriter. This mainly instrumental music (there are spoken announcements and narratives and the odd sung passage) blends some American folk music (like Appalachian valleys festive folk and country) and the ever-present Klezmer/gypsy folkloric musics that pervade in circus circles. S the name of the band and its usual album artworks indicates Carpenter's musical world is nearly monomaniacal, where the odd weird instrument intervenes, like the big loud electric guitar, the singing saw, an embarrassing tuba or a slide trumpet?

The album is your typical circus-derived music (as the artwork rightly indicates), with tons of horn instruments, including the always/often ridiculous tuba and a personal peeve of mine: an accordion. The album is divided in two acts, but you'd be hard-pressed to know which would come first if I was to shuffle them around. Often repetitive in its ideas, sometimes nearing grotesque moods, BC's music demands a certain skill from its actors and a definitive and patient attention span from its audience, if the latter is not too demanding and can forget the usual clichés of this festive and unnerving form of formulaic folkloric music. This having been written, there are some excellent passages, but never anything close to breaking grounds outside the circus ring or at least its gates, but the album is long and you'll quickly tire of being bombarded with the same type of music, despite the different twist and tricks that appear regularly throughout the album.

The following albums will not be fundamentally different (although less improvised and dissonant), developing mostly the same Manouche/Klezmer circus-type of music, which of course implies impressive musicianship, but given the hundreds of album over-crowding that genre, BC's albums are anything but fundamental, original or essential. Unless a real addict off this kind of music, this won't be for you , unless you haven't got Miriodor, Ensemble Nimbus, Debile Menthol, Cro Magnon and many more, all of which are superior than Beat Circus, which threads a very beaten and flogged-over path.

 Dreamland by BEAT CIRCUS album cover Studio Album, 2008
3.04 | 6 ratings

Beat Circus Prog Folk

Review by Sean Trane
Special Collaborator Prog Folk

3 stars First instalment of a conceptual trilogy based on amusement park's (Dream Land was its name) destruction after a fire in 1911 on Coney Island. Apparently the group had changed fairly drastically both sonically and personnel-wise from their debut album, a few years before. As you might guess, the music is very circus-like and can present similarities with some Gypsy/klezmer jazz music, namely Emir Kustica's music on the Underground film of the mid- 90's, but coupled with a good dose of Appalachian folk musics. Brian Carpenter is still the leader and main (only?) composer and plays a wide variety of instruments, but he's joined by some 8 more members or guests who play strange instruments such as tube washboard, accordion, and a rare tenor banjo. Don't get fooled by the "gothic" description of the project, the music is nothing close to gothic rock or metal, though.

Musically, we're not far from bands like Alamaailman Vasarat or Ramlosa Kvallar and to a lesser extent Miriodor or Cro-Magnon., but there are difference, namely in those afore mentioned Americana musics and some Spanish-sounding trumpets and ragtime pianos, but if any of the group just mentioned don't please you, you'd be advised to stay away from this album. The music is fairly constant, oscillating on that weird avant/gypsy music and the eastern US folk, but it is filled with Circus and amusement park noises between the songs, and contrarily to many of the groups mentioned, these are real (and relatively short) songs with vocals, courtesy of leader Carpenter. Btw, wait a few seconds when the album draws to a close, cos there is a small bonus

If you're already familiar to AV, RK, Miriodor and the likes, and you don't wish to expand more in that direction, you might want to avoid this one and its successor. But in case you are a freak for that kind of music, feel free to indulge in Beat Circus and plunge in Dream Land.

 Ringleader's Revolt by BEAT CIRCUS album cover Studio Album, 2004
3.07 | 5 ratings

Ringleader's Revolt
Beat Circus Prog Folk

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

3 stars Beat Circus' first studio release finds the band working hard to define their sound and occasionally succeeding. Unlike the first two-thirds of band founder Brian Carpenter's 'Weird American Gothic Trilogy' that would follow, this is mostly an instrumental album and is full of raucous, rambling and clearly highly improvised weird American gothic circus music.

It's difficult to put a label on the Beat Circus sound, although "Weird American Gothic" works as well as anything else. It's also difficult to not conjure up images of acts like Blue Mountain, Reverend Glasseye, Drive-by Truckers and the like when toe-tapping along to Carpenter's bizarro blend of Chautauqua carnie riffs, hardscrabble Appalachian bluegrass and jaunty ragtime. On tracks like "Mandalay Song" the band also shows hints of a klezmer-leaning sound that will emerge considerably stronger and more vibrant on subsequent albums. Carpenter even manages to hearken back a bit to Wild West saloon burlesque on "Escape From the Big House", a saucy and slow number that gets a surprising ending of nonsensical lyrics courtesy DJ Hazard (more name-dropping below). These are also about the only vocals on the album save for sporadic moaning and unintelligible rants.

Carpenter clearly has strong and broad connections throughout the music industry, as evidenced by the many guests appearing on all his albums. Here those include Karen Langlie (Orgy of Noise), jazz saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase, Alec K. Redfearn (Fern Knight), and Brandon Seabrook (John Zorn) among others. Considering Carpenter now calls music-rich Cambridge, Massachusetts home it's not surprising he managed to nail down such highly-accomplished and professional accompaniment. But sideman pedigree aside, Carpenter's clear love of fun and well-crafted music shines through from start to finish.

I'd love to say this is a masterpiece but it's not. It is forty-five minutes of highly energetic, very well-played and enthusiastic fun music though, and about as far removed from cookie- cutter pop as you might think possible. For that Brian Carpenter and his mad, merry henchmen deserve both kudos and thanks. I was going to say this is a two-star album (for collectors only), but really if you haven't heard these guys this one will prime your pump for the much more complex and grandiose works that would follow. If you do know the band, this is a great glimpse into where they came from. Either way it's hard to imagine you'll regret shelling out the few bucks this one will set you back, so three stars and a hearty, belly-laugh recommendation to check them out.


 Boy From Black Mountain by BEAT CIRCUS album cover Studio Album, 2009
3.91 | 7 ratings

Boy From Black Mountain
Beat Circus Prog Folk

Review by JLocke
Prog Reviewer

4 stars From the very first time I heard this album, I loved it. Now, I'm not much for Country music, but the mixture of southern elements with the Avant-Garde Rock stylings make for some of the most entertaining music I've heard this year. Too bad last year (the year it was released) I missed out on this little gem. I think in terms of creativity and eclecticism, Beat Circus is surely near the top right now. This album contains everything from symphonic strings and bluegrass banjo to hard rocking guitars and tubas.

''The February Train'' is an absolutely gorgeous opener, featuring Carpenter's unique and spine-tingling voice singing a lovely melody, accompanied by an incredibly string section. Altogether, it makes for a wonderful way to begin the album.

''The Life You Save May be Your Own'' is the first Country song on the record, full of traditional melodies and harmonica. Not a bad track, but it's sounds half-finished, and almost serves as a precursor to a much stronger song, ''Petrified Man'', that will come later on.

''Boy From Black Mountain''. The title track is also the longest one, and it is a very good ballad, full of soaring strings and choir vocals. It's one of the many high points on the record, and certainly cannot be missed. It almost sounds like it was composed for a film.

''Clouds Moving In'' is one of the weakest tracks, is too short to really go anywhere. It basically consists of jumping, bubbly violins, and could serve as a decent intro to something bigger, but just when you think it's going to move into a new direction, it ends. In my opinion, a song that doesn't even need to be there, and it drags the complete album experience down a little.

''Petrified Man'' is the first song from this album that I heard, and it is still one of my favorite Beat Circus tunes. It sounds very similar to track number two, but is clearly a development of the theme, and a very enjoyable listen, if you ask me. Again, a very southern-y song, but much better than your typical country fare.

''As I Lay Dying''. Probably the funniest track, full of goofy, over-the-top vocal styles and musical patters. At the same time, very exciting and just a lot of fun. Make particular note of the high-pitched hooting and hollering in the style of a traditional hoedown flanking the tubas and trombones of a big band.

''Saturn Song'' is among the more unconventional tracks, and this tradition will continue for most of the remainder of the album. It opens up with some funky banjo and ends with classical violins.

''The Course of the River'' continues that classical vibe, with cellos and violins starting things off on a very stylish note. Soon enough, though, harmonica and electric guitar join in as well as upright bass for a very nice meeting of the styles. This track isn't very long and is instrumental. Unlike the''CLouds Moving In'' track, however, it isn't filler. I really enjoy it.

''The Quick and the Dead''. The deep, gravelly vocal stylings of Carpenter mirroring the wailing, frantic strings is the brightest spot in this track for me. Of course the other instruments serve their purposes as well. In fact, ANY moment on the record in which Carpenter brings his voice down to a britone low, it makes my day. The man is a masterful singer, and seems to have an indefinite monopoly on the amount of range or theatrical flourishes he can hold. Around the 2:30 mark is enough reason alone to hear this song.

''The Sound and the Fury''. When I said things were going to continue in the unconventional direction, I wasn't kidding. This is a song that starts off with string-accompanied female vocals. No lyrics, just wordless melody. I'm assuming the voice belongs to Ellen Santaniello. Not long after this has begun, things switch into a very different mode, and it sounds like a Henry Cow song. After a little more craziness, the best part of the song happens. An off-beat bass line serves as the star instrument for awhile, as we hear distant chanting of children in the background. It's unnerving, and possibly a little disturbing. I absolutely adore it. Some more strings and wordless singing come in one final time before the reprise of the distant, monotone chanting. The song ends on a very dark, unsettling note. Get ready, because more darker edged music is just around the corner.

''Nantahala'' is by far my favorite song on the entire album. It's astoundingly brilliant. It begins with what sounds like pre-recorded violin , which then builds into many violins, and they are all playing the same, relentless string of notes with fury and angst. Once the radio speaker effect leaves and you can hear the sound of the strings in all their clear, open brilliance, the best part of the album comes in. Around thirty seconds in to the track, a pumping, heavy, relentless electric guitar lead breaks in, and it continues to build and built over the course of the song until every ounce of open air is swallowed up in its wake. The ever-going violins underneath the distorted star instrument makes for a very delicious dichotomy, and while this is undoubtedly my most prized moment of the album, it is also arguably the most 'prog' moment on the record. Everything about this track just shines, and when the song is over much too soon, I often find myself having to hit the 'back' button and listen to it again. 'Brilliant' is the only word that describes this.

''Lullaby for Alexander''. After a long silence (most likely giving the listener a chance to process all the frantic weirdness that has ensued, and catch their breath), the final track comes in as softly and gently as it possibly can, easing the listener into the final musical movement that serves as a the bright light at the end of the dark (and incredibly eclectic) tunnel that is Boy From Black Mountain. I don't really know the last time I fell this instantly in love with an album without needing a lot of time for it to grow on me. This one just instantly clicked. I don't know if it was the quirky, heavily southern-tinged Avant-Garde approach, the beauty and unconventional composition or perhaps it's just meant to remain a mystery, but something about this album in particular spoke to me instantly, and I've been in love with it ever since.

For me, this is hands-down one of the best surprises I've had in a long time. I think anybody who has even a little bit of an open mind will enjoy the hell out of Boy From Black Mountain, and so I am giving this a solid 4. One pointless track (in my opinion) keeps it as a whole from reaching the heights that other albums have for me, and the sudden steer into the darkness during the album's second half might make for a slightly unbalanced listen for some, but weak or uninspired this is certainly not. One of the coolest new bands I have discovered in recent years, Beat Circus has hit it out of the park with this release.

Very happy listening.

Thanks to evolutionary_sleeper for the artist addition. and to ClemofNazareth for the last updates

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