In its original incarnation, Beat Circus was an improvisational instrumental combo who took old-fashioned circus music as their jumping off point. Released in 2004, Ringleaders Revolt was a weird and wonderful amalgam of Edwardian kitsch and contemporary free improv fearlessness, but leader Brian Carpenter wisely recognized that there was not likely a second album's worth of material in that style. As a result, he went in an entirely different direction for Dreamland. Announced as the first release in the band's new "Weird American Gothic" trilogy, Dreamland is a concept album loosely based on a real historical tragedy, the fire that consumed Coney Island's Dreamland amusement park in 1911. Working with lyrics for the first time, Carpenter is occasionally a bit heavy-handed; "The Ghost of Emma Jean" lacks the creepy mystery Carpenter seems to be going for simply because the lyrics sketch out too much of the story: girl gets run over by train, returns as ghost, the end. On the other hand, the music and the wonderfully well-realized arrangements are, if anything, even better than on the band's debut. This time, Carpenter is working with an expanded version of the band from the first album, including accordionist Alec K. Redfearn and drummer Matt McLaren from Providence post-rockers Alec K. Redfearn & the Eyesores, and New York alt-folk mainstay Brian Dewan, who provides his trademark electric zither as well as the album's lovely/creepy cover art, and the stylistically varied results make for a wonderfully imaginative record. Instrumental tracks like the opener "Gyp the Blood," and the mad Balkan dance tune "Slavochka" work the same stylistic street as folks like Beirut and A Hawk and a Hacksaw, while the more experimental pop-oriented songs recall the warped imagination of Elephant 6 associated eccentrics the Music Tapes. Fans of any of those acts will find much to love here.
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason