The Beta Band
by Jamie Kiffel
Anyone who says samples and electronic noise are soulless hasn’t heard The Beta Band. This is music that refuses to set limits, and dares us to plunge our own souls beyond the borders of sound. The disc trip begins with a history of the band, first set to a 1930s style barbershop quartet singing jubilantly over the dissonant background of a roomful of partygoers. The band obliviously sings over the tipsy, sloppy sound of off-time clinked drinks and drunken chatter, evoking uncertainty as we try to share the dumb joy of the happy players… but become increasingly unnerved as they fall more and more out of step with the chatter behind them. And our nervous hunch is right: the music suddenly groans into a gooey mush, reinventing itself as a groovy, bassy rap. From there, an effortless shift like a rainbow light morphing through the spectrum brings us into a “Jailhouse Rock”-like ’50s rush. Like a movie camera with ADD, the disc seizes our attention in an ever-changing kaleidoscope of musical stars stealing the stage, taping us on the eardrum and taking us out for a few minutes for a serenade before dumping us back in someone else’s box.
On “It’s Not Too Beautiful,” watery bass and dreamy psychedelic vocals sing a soulful chorus, “But I will fly…” only to be submerged under a growing monster movie theme that roars up over the soft sounds like Armageddon stomping the disc with clawed, thousand-pound feet. Listen closer and enjoy hunting out subtler bits of the noise collage – feet racing over gravel, a beeper meeping…
“Round the Bend” is just that – a loony bin song with a rhythmy cuckoo clock forever going insane as the singer, Stephen Mason, expresses finding himself “at 90 degrees to the world.” His soft, sometimes introspective Roger Watersy lilt turns dark, deep, and growling, thanks to a harmonizer turned way low on “Dance O’er the Border,” a calypso/drum’n’bass/whistling sexual noise slide. But before you get comfortable in your phat pants… here come Simon and Garfunkel, complete with gentle male harmonies and happy clapping. Capitalism takes a verb-filled feature on “Number 15,” a chanted overload of consumption (“You bought it, you found it, you stole it, you sold it…”) set to a catchy beat. We groove easy on “Smiling” until slow vocals come in with a lilting, Renaissance-like interlude, all overcome by a low and menacing electric bass, and then morph into one of the high points of the disc – synthesized owls hooting like metallic droids in a dark, Bladerunner-like forest of backwards drums and chimes, clocks going haywire with clacks and clongs… and ending in soulful piano tagged with an afterthought – “Woo-hoo!”
This is the digital and human noise interface at its best, daring tomorrow’s sounds to try harder and be more than just music to gum against. All grown up, these conglomerate sounds have matured with extra limbs, eyes, and several sets of teeth, outgrowing their box and spilling over in many directions. Thrust your head in and explore where music can go if we just won’t stop thinking, won’t stop recording. This is rock taken further. Go. Hear. More.
(104 W. 29th St. 4th Fl., New York, NY 10001)