On first glance, the line-up on Shame Engine / Blood Pleasure, the seventh studio album from Chicago’s Health&Beauty, might indicate a passing of the torch. The recording features a large cast of musicians from the outfit’s past and its present helping the band’s founder and sole constant Brian J Sulpizio achieve his idiosyncratic vision—a sound and ethos he’s been kicking around, retooling, and finessing for more than 15 years, a few years after moving to Chicago from his native Defiance, Ohio in 2000. From song to song the band’s sound encapsulates detail-rich pop songs, extended jamming inspired by Chicago’s free jazz legacy, and devastatingly potent country-folk tunes. Sulpizio has never been hung up on genre, but his imagination and musicianship has allowed him to bring far-flung ideas to beautiful fruition.
A good chunk of the beautifully scorching new album was cut right after a quartet version of the group - with guitarist Jake Acosta, drummer Seth Vanek, and bassist Bill Satek - had finished an intensive three-week tour at the end of 2017. The new album conveys a directness and scorching power that seems to stem from the band’s live performances, whether the harrowing, droning blues of the opener Saturday Night or the soulful Irish-tinged folk-rock of Recourse. In reality, Shame Engine / Blood Pleasure is simply the latest chapter in an evolving tome, but it’s absolutely the most gripping and satisfying instalment in that process yet.