Released 1998 (I think) on Astralwerks.
The Beta Band are a fairly odd collective. For a start, they're Scottish. They're also incredibly reclusive, giving the impression that they live somewhere in the highlands, wandering down occasionally only to record an EP or three; practically no press ever accompanied releases, and they seemed determined to let their music, and only their music, do any talking. I'm not even sure how many members there are, as the booklet to this album contains no information on the band or the songs (beyond copyright information, track names and thanks). It is however fairly interesting in it's own right, as it's a collection of all the original covers and picture disc illustrations of the three EPs.
This release is a bit strange too. It's not technically an album, but (shockingly) a compilation of the Beta Band's first three EP releases, gathered together in one place for your listening convenience. This brings to the fore one of the greater problems straight away; it's difficult to listen to as one whole thing, and I wouldn't recommend doing so. Each third of the album was conceived as it's own EP, and in themselves, each can be satisfying listening. Taken together (though to their credit none of the EPs' tracks' styles clash too noticeably), it becomes a dangerously tedious listening experience, simply because the 12 tracks together come up just shy of a full CD's worth of music (78 minutes). That's not to say that such long albums are necessarily tedious, but these weren't designed to run together for 80 minutes, and anyway, a lot of the Beta Band's music is rooted in being repetitive and hypnotic, and like I say, it just starts to grate.
The music itself is also less than predictable. The word that always springs to my mind in describing it is "eclectic", as it contains elements of alt/indie rock in general, but also folk, to some extent, and hip hop (including samples), all with a distinctly lo-fi feel to it. Overall, the closest comparable artist is probably Beck, another notoriously difficult to classify genre-hound. Still not all that similar though, as overall The Beta Band tend to feel much less happy, less positive than Beck. More subdued. There's also a lack of of blues influence, which Beck shows rather clearly.
Expect a lot of repetition, not from track to track - I'm not saying they sound samey, or anything like that - but rather within each song. A lot of the music's effectiveness is built using repetition, creating a fairly entrancing, relaxing effect. Almost hypnotic, sometimes. This isn't very commercial, radio-friendly music, and though some tracks can be quite catchy (Dry the Rain
and The House Song
being prime examples), it usually requires quite some attention to really enjoy. It took me a long time to really sit down and listen to it properly, especially the spacey, often almost experimental The Patty Patty Sound
EP, and even more especially the 15-minute, sample-drenched Monolith
(which even samples other Beta Band tracks, noticeably Dry the Rain
), but when I finally did, I loved what I found.
Overall, this is an excellent disc. It'll probably take a while to get into, but there's such a unique mix of music here, and every song has at least one excellent groove, that I imagine anyone who can deal with some manner of non-metal music could eventually find some way to like it, if not love it. It bears repeated listening, too, if only because there's pretty much always something else to try concentrating on. As a matter of fact, as I'm typing this, I'm listening to The House Song
, a track I thought I knew quite well, and for what seems like the first time I'm really noticing the nonsensical pseudo-rap that comes in around three minutes in. The Beta Band are still very much together, by the way, (in fact, if all goes well, I could be seeing them live sometime this year), but I haven't heard anything else by them, so I have no benchmark to judge this album against. Still, I'd urge people to check them out (in fact, I have once already, but I don't know if anyone actually did). The only thing about The Three EPs
which prevents me giving it 4.5 or higher is that the three releases don't work so well on one disc.
Dry the Rain
, if only because it's the first song I heard by them, and the one which persuaded me to check out The Three EPs
further. I think it's actually one of their simpler songs (despite the presence of trumpets), but it's just so good. Incidentally, for fans of High Fidelity
(the film), this is the track which plays as Rob informs Dick that he will now sell five copies of The Beta Band's Three EPs
. It also got a 9/10 from YDload in Forced Listening, I think.