Friday, July 01, 2011

FDF Volume 3 Issue 231: The Beta Band - The 3 E.P.s

By: March

Album – The Three E.P.'s
Artist – The Beta Band
Key Players - Steve Mason – vocals, guitar. Gordon Anderson
Robin Jones – drums. John MacLean – DJ, samplers, keyboards. Richard Greentree – bass.
Steve Duffield - bass
Produced By – Chris Allison and the Beta Band

Release Date – January 26, 1999

What caused me to blow off the dust? - I will 100% admit that a certain movie got me curious about “Dry the Rain”. Continue to read further...anyway, I can't tell you the last time this collection got a full play through.

Overview – This is a compilation of Edinburgh, Scotland The Beta Band's first three releases. Formed in 1996 and blending folk, rock and electronic music. Steve Mason and Gordon Anderson would work with a series of musicians and become critical darlings, but wide appeal would elude them. The band would crack the US market in the 2000 film “High Fidelity” in which John Cusak and Jack Black argue to see how many copies of the record they call sell at one time. The band would garner new fans, but never really make it as big as thought. They'd disband in 2004.

FDF Comments (aka the songs) – Will break it down as put on the record. The first four tracks are from “Champion Versions”, The second four are from “The Patty Patty Sound” and the final four are from “Los Amigos Del Beta Bandidos”.

The first track is “Dry the Rain”. The slow acoustic guitar slide up with percussive raps and the smooth vocals from Mason are a perfect opener, setting the tone for the entire collection. A Dobro guitar seems to be used for slides as the verses begin. The haunting and smooth vocal delivery are what has this song as a stand out. After the second chorus the band bears down some and it gets a bit more urgent as the bass and drums grow in unison. Duffield gets to show off on the bass a little before a harmonica portion of the song, but the overall vibe of the track remains a constant and listening now its really a shining moment for the band. “I Know” is a slow building track with a harmonic bass line before a simple back beat on the drums starts. The guitar chimes lightly over the repeated guitar part. The vocal are very low in the mix, hushed and whispered. A few keyboard blips fill in with the guitar, but the song is going no where with a quick tempo. On the ep this is the shortest of all the tracks, and the band seems comfortable with what they have done to this point. The track “B+A” is next. Again a lone instrument starts the track, this time a single guitar. The bass joins, but is hesitant at times Duffield doesn't seem to want to really take off. After a bit the keyboards and drums come in. Its a lightly sequenced track, with the mood once more being laid back and somber. The track is instrumental for over three minutes before the full band seems to click in and even then the vocals are so buried they seem to just be ambient “ooh/ahh” type runs. The bass is a little higher in the mix as the song takes off and Duffield and Jones seem to really click. Hand claps add to the vibe as the bass swells and percussive instruments also join in. It gets a bit more raucous which makes it all the more fun. The last song from this first e.p. Is “Dog's Got a Bone”, another slow to build track with a soothing bass line. The vocals are easier to hear on this track and the conga and bass are the instruments that stand out the most. The vocals seem to soar more on this and the band is not afraid to allow Mason to shine a little.

The next e.p. starts with “Inner Meet Me”. The track has keyboards similar to a Steve Miller track of the 1970's and the vocals are fairly odd in their delivery. A lone acoustic comes in and after a few repeated bars on the riff Mason begins to sing. The odd vocal portion at the start is looped under, overdubbed for the first verse. Mason has a calm and pretty voice and the band seems all come in for a campfire like jam with the acoustic leading the way for percussive instruments. They have seemingly such a good time they return to this vibe once more and then they go with some echo call and response and the song wraps up. “The House Song” starts with quiet, but quickly delivered vocals. The line is put in to a loop and the line is sung over and then mashed for an overdub as a keyboard starts to swirl. This repeats for over a minute before the beat gets a little heavier and the percussive instruments begin. Greentree walks the bass line over the vocals and other instruments being played, its a tight smooth bass. It then takes a quick change and has a hip-hop feel with the bass still being very strong but more of a musical breakdown as the overwhelming theme. Live drums add even more accent at about the 3:30 mark of the track. The percussive instruments continue to be beat upon and some sound as wild as a trash can to congas. Its a fun jam the band falls in. A real fun jam. “Monolith” is the longest track of all three collections clocking in over 15 minutes in length. The track starts off with nature sounds (birds chirping etc) before a needle drops to a record and a song begins. It is a trippy start to the track. Spoken word, deep keyboard drones and a swirl back to the backing record. This continues to be the same before the drums get a bit more intense 4 minutes in, the song then fades out like a false ending to the bird sounds once more. This is the theme for the entire track. Closing out this section is “She's the One”. There is a mouth harp and the band works to get things off the ground. After a few vocal lines the guitar and drums come in. The acoustic guitar is strong and right up high in the mix which is nice. The vocals have that nice blend of deep baritone that works so well with the overdubbed harmonies. The acoustic really cuts through strongly and Mason really shines vocally. A standout track.

The final e.p. begins with “Push it Out” as Jones lightly strikes the ride cymbal. The vocals remain hushed and sound a bit eerie. The song title is repeated over the same cymbal ride before hand claps and a slow bass line begins. The band comes in more and a piano is a heavy presence as well. Gongs, and percussive instruments abound. The lyrics never change though, and it remains a constant with a nice acoustic guitar part to ring it all out. “It's Over” also starts with a strong acoustic guitar and a punchy bass from Greentree. The band does use a lot of instruments to fill out the sound rather than a simple rock band formula. There are hardly ever “drums” rather congas or the bass holds everyone together. Piano is at the start of “Dr. Baker” and as the vocals come in, fans of the band “The National” will feel right at home with the deep baritone soaring vocal. There are longer vocal harmonies as the track seems to veer off course but then swing back in with the vocals. As odd as the musical breakdowns are the vocals make up for it all. Wrapping up the e.p. Is Needles in My Eyes”. This time the bass and drums work with an organ before Mason begins. The organ is not overpowering but it is the dominant instrument on the track. This is the first track that seems to get the drums moving things forward as well. The guitar line is held back, blurting out single choppy notes

Where are they now? Steve Duffield left the band after the first ep was recorded. Steve Mason released music under the moniker “King Biscuit Time” and other names, but would also release a solo album under his own name in 2010. Robin Jones, John MacLean and Gordon Anderson formed the band “The Aliens”. Richard Greentree is working with a new band “The General and Duchess Collins”.

FDF Personal Comments (aka the Live experience) – I never saw the Beta Band live.

FDF Overall Take – There are some really shining moments on this collection. If you like your music semi-moody and stylistically “simple” you will really enjoy the record. There is no huge flashes of a guitar or drum solos. The band works well together and blends all those perfect moments to really capture the mood. If you like “Dry the Rain” you'd enjoy 90% or more of this collection. Well worth your time.

Official page
Myspace page

Curious? Check out some MUSIC!

The scene from Hi-Fidlity that sold most. (embed was turned off)
Dry the Rain Live
Inner Meet Me
The House Song

The album is still in print. You can get it here.


At 2:36 PM, Anonymous pharmacy tech said...

The album is sweet and melodic and there are no dull moments,
And it's cool I got to taste this kind of music.


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