Beta Band tone down psychedelic sound
By SAM DERHEIMER
Assistant Scene Editor
Psychedelic trip-hop folk. It doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. It also doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But then again, neither do the Beta Band. And `psychedelic trip-hop folk' may just be the best way to describe the eclectic sound of this foursome of indie rockers from Edinburgh.
Now, after a debut full-length album which the band themselves referred to as "F---ing awful" and "rushed," the Beta Band are back, slightly more mature (though not much), and poised for a new assault on pop-rock.
Hot Shots II marks a significant change in style and songwriting for the Beta Band. Rather than the dense, epic soundscapes that once cluttered Beta Band albums, Hot Shots cuts the lard, and is drastically more focused — without losing any of the easy melodies or hypnotic grooves that made past albums such underground hits.
"We tried to condense the songs down from 15 or 30 minutes to four," lead vocalist Stephan Mason said to a Sonicnet reporter. "We wanted to make them more exciting to listen to rather than a pain in the butt."
The effort is blatant. Mason, along with bandmates Robin Jones on drums, Richard Greentree on bass and John Maclean as DJ/sampler, have finally achieved a quality of sound that has seemed so elusive to the band in the past. Hot Shots is a much more concise album than the Beta Band have ever been able to produce before. The ambient grooves and beautiful weirdness that make the Beta Band so unique remain, only more refined, more direct. Smooth, spatial architecture is the rule on Hot Shots, rather than the exception.
The band seemed to take an almost minimalist approach to writing songs like "Gone" and "Squares." Soft, mellow guitar and piano compliment each other, and create an eerily comforting sort of sound.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Beta Band record if there weren't a few funked-out psychedelic jams as well. In "Broke," Mason whispers, "A simple truth is all I ask for … no reply" above pulsing stereophonic throngs mixed with soft guitar and chimes. "Won," a bonus track hip-hop remake of Crosby, Stills and Nash's "One," exemplifies the band's creativity and willingness to go against the conformity of modern rock.
After opening for Radiohead during their North American Amnesiac tour, and having their music prominently featured in the film "High Fidelity," Beta Band are paying their dues and slowly climbing the rungs of rock exsposure. This politically charged, groove oriented indie rock band has a serious future, and Hot Shots II puts them well on their way.
All Scene Stories for Tuesday, September 25, 2001