Dusting ‘Em Off: The Beta Band – The Three EP’s

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While it was not The Beta Band’s first full-length record of new material, it can, understandably, be mistaken for that. The Three EP’s is a compilation of previous releases the band recorded starting in 1997. After the first of the series, Champion Versions, the six piece would spend the next year (1998) releasing two more EP’s, The Patty Patty Sound, and Los Amigos del Beta Banditos. What is curious about this tactic is that in the same year they decided to combine all three, releasing it all on one record. Whatever the reasoning behind this, fans did not complain as it received high marks from many of the music community (#35 on the U.K. charts) the next year. This record would also be the lead off for further full-length work to follow in 1999, 2001, and, after a brief hiatus, 2004. It is The Three EP’s however that fans and critics alike turn to as a source for the now defunct band’s best material.

“This is the story of my life” are the opening words, and coupled with the music of “Dry The Rain”, the mood of the record is set with a chilled out, catchy, and a Beck like vibe.  It would not be unthinkable to draw those parallels, but where Beck has since moved on and ditched the weirdness, The Beta Band stuck to the mellow experimental that they exhibit so well on this album. “I Know” is an instrumental, coming across as more of a hip-hop beat. Most of these songs could easily be conjured up and used in remixes due to the prominent base line that runs throughout. “B+A” adds a Dust Brothers essence with sliding metallic tones that give the track a hypnotic tone right before exploding with crashing symbols and claps, all of which wakes you from a daze.

“Dog’s Got A Bone” is the last track off the Champion Versions EP and sees the return of the simple story telling that is never specific enough for a true meaning and leaves plenty open to interpretation. What you also notice is that when vocals are used in a song, the heavy beat edge is replaced by a simpler folk influence as the guitars take prominence, and the base line slows.

The songs from The Patty Patty Sound begin to dive into more experimentation for the band as tracks like “The House Song” use looped vocals as the beat with a funky bass line and alternative percussions such as bongos. Then out of nowhere a quick Spanish rap line marks the sharp left turn this song would take. The entire feel changes completely picking up the funk even more as objects and random sounds are played to the beat. Things further spiral down the rabbit hole with a fifteen-minute epic featuring an introduction that would make Animal Collective jealous. The journey continues for the band and rhythm is found. Pre-recorded and live moments fade in and out until the entire thing is reduced to whispering drums. The beat stays the same level and a new and blusier jam leads into more oddities for the finish.

By the last EP, Los Amigos del Beta Banditos, the first of the series seems normal. By this point, vocal parts have been become a tool. The lyrics move from words to instruments and phrases are repeated over and over with its own rhythm (e.g. “Dr. Baker”). “Needles In My Eyes” finishes the record exactly where it started with a lazy, bouncy attitude that takes you full circle.

The Beta Band is just one of many late nineties indie acts that have had a huge influence on today’s generation and yet get a little left out by the mainstream. The group’s sound can be heard everywhere in indie today, from Ratatat to Broken Social Scene. Since combining each of the three EP’s 10 years ago, it is amazing to see how well it all fits together as if the mixing was done subconsciously. This is a record that should not be played all the time, but definitely has its moments. I’m guessing it has been a while since you listened to this, so dust it off and enjoy.

To quote Rob of High Fidelity, “I have now sold five copies of this record.”

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