1999, Music

The Beta Band (1999)

Sometimes you encounter something you don’t know at all and it just stuns you with something special about itself. In this case, it’s the irreverence and the extremely healthy disrespect for genres (which I’m a sucker for) of something like the lead-off track, “The Beta Band Rap”, which I just can’t get over. It takes all kinds of guts to lead off your debut album with something this ridiculous. And, frankly, if the whole rest of the album were like that, I might be acclaiming this record a masterpiece.

This is one of those records that gets labeled “folktronica” or “indietronica” because it’s really hard to capture – like a bunch of traditional musicians discovered hip hop and trip hop and decided to make a record that mostly sounds like neither of those two genres. (There was a long tradition in the UK by this point of bands discovering hip hop and using the production techniques to create music that really doesn’t make any traditional sense.) It’s really hard to use genre terms to describe music that doesn’t sound like much else and that’s to their credit, as this sounds like little else I’ve ever heard. (In particular, I should note that it doesn’t sound anything like any “folktronica” I’ve heard to date, because that stuff is usually a guy with an acoustic guitar and some programming in the background. Not so here.)

But like so many debut records, the reach exceeds the grasp. Not everything works well and there is just too much music, as the record is over an hour long. And the sheer sense of fun or “fuck you” embodied in the first track is not always present on all the other tracks, some of which seem a little more self serious.

But this is still a brave, bold, amusing and fun debut album; probably one of the best debut albums of the decade. It has so much that is great about young musicians and only some of what makes them so frustrating. I think I probably would have lost my mind over it had I heard it when I was 20 instead of nearing 40.

Good stuff.


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