The exact chemistry that gave birth to Beat Happening could never be replicated. Born of the same fervor as a burgeoning hardcore movement, and taking off from a college radio background when "college rock" was becoming a viable commodity with R.E.M., U2, and the Smiths all quickly outgrowing independent beginnings, the trio of Evergreen students somehow completely ignored the outside world, spinning vulnerable and strange music informed only by their immediate surroundings and collective imagination. Between 1985 and 1992 the band would release five albums in quick succession, sounding like none of their peers, alienating those not ready for their raw and technique-averse style, and silently setting the tone for all independent music that followed. We Are Beat Happening collects the band's entire recorded output, which includes those five albums as well Music to Climb the Apple Tree By, a collection of rarities and miscellanea originally released in 2003.
After forming nebulously in the early '80s, the solidified lineup embarked on a group trip to Japan, where they played impromptu shows and recorded their first songs on cassette boom boxes. The fruits of that trip and a makeshift recording session with the Wipers' Greg Sage resulted in the band's self-titled 1985 debut. This phase was easily their most lo-fi, and songs like "Our Secret," "Run Down the Stairs," and "Fourteen" began to expose the group's tenuous balance between childlike innocence and decidedly adult emotions. The album's raw performances and rough production stabilized somewhat with 1988's Jamboree. Over 11 songs and just 23 minutes, the band retained some of their offhand esthetic (the bathroom-recorded a cappella "Ask Me" and live feedback poetry of "The This Many Boyfriends Club"), but their songwriting grew to include both Cramps-styled rockers ("Bewitched," "Hangman") as well as the wide-eyed beauty of one of their most-loved songs, "Indian Summer." The same spirit applied to 1989's kindly haunted Black Candy and 1991's Dreamy and shifted somewhat with 1992's You Turn Me On. That album experimented with longer, slower songs, guitar textures, and multi-track recording that made their rough-hewn beginnings sound almost like another band entirely. From that album on, the group entered a period of semi-dormancy but never officially disbanded.
A two-song 7" showed up in 2000 with a newly recorded song, "Angel Gone," backed by a lackluster B-side recorded in 1995. Those tracks and 13 others made up the Music to Climb the Apple Tree By compilation, also included here and effectively collecting every loose scrap of the group's discography save various live documents. We Are Beat Happening is a concentrated look at a band unlike any other, and their organic growth over a fearless creative arc. The collection's 70-odd tracks can be a little daunting, but appreciated one song (or album) at a time, the creaky magic of the group becomes apparent. Beat Happening existed in a rare and singular space, unmoved by anything outside of the excitement of creating art on their own terms.