Beta Band

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The Three EPs , 7.5/10 (comp)
The Beta Band , 6/10
Hot Shots II, 5/10
Lone Pigeon: Concubine Rice, 6/10
Heroes To Zeros (2004), 6/10
Aliens: Astronomy For Dogs (2007), 5/10
Black Affair: Pleasure Pressure Point (2007), 4/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

The Beta Band (originally the Pigeons), hailing from rural Scotland and featuring guitarist Gordon Anderson and vocalist Steve Mason, made an artistic splash with their first three EPs, that, far from being the ritual catchy, image-building, marketing-savvy singles of British bands, broke more than one convention. They will be collected in The Three EPs (Astralwerks, 1999). The singer whispers frail lullabys while the band strums along half asleep, producing a cross between Meat Puppets and Pink Floyd. Moreover, the percussive element rules, like in a played down Crash Worship. Finally, myriad of background and foreground noises dot the soundscape.

Champion Versions (EMI, 1997) revelead their skills in merging the relaxed hedonism of acid-rock and the dehumanized shuffle of dance music. Dry The Rain provokes frigid hippie vibrations with its brand of roots-rock tainted by languid psychedelic Syd Barrett-ian indolence, its crescendo of hypnotic orchestral arrangements and vocal harmonies. I Know weaves softly humming and strumming guitars into a delicate trance over a thick percussiive carpet. B+A enhances the method by erasing the vocals, multiplying the guitars and drums noise to shoegazing levels, and stretching the melodies to become Tibetan drones. The Ep is crowned by Dogs Got A Bone, a colloquial ballad enlivened and spaced out by quirky noises and minimalist patterns of accompaniment.

Gordon Anderson left the Beta Band after this recording, which was mainly his brainchild.

The Patty Patty Sound (EMI, 1998) shows a more careful "staging" of the music, and a more marked dance factor. Inner Meet Me opens with surreal bleeps of synthesizer, the usual rhythmic strumming of the guitars doubles into a vaguely exotic/tribal jamming studded with electronic hisses and stifled by subsonic vocals. Monolith, the culmination of Beta Band's intense sound sculpting, veers decidedly towards world-music but encages it in an envelop of natural sounds and bizarre samples. With this collage, the band abandons trance for the sake of trance and adopts the more sophisticated stance of the sound manipulator. The experiments peak with The House Song, a voodoo/techno dance that throws chirping electronics and a wild assortment of dissonances in the mix. She's The One opens with a Laurie Anderson-style tongue twister but the powerful percussive base leads to a guitar and organ gospel/jazz jam.

After that orgy, Los Amigos Del Beta Bandidos (EMI, 1998) sounds like a retreat. The exotic psalm and martial pace of Push It Out erect a magnetic atmosphere of gothic suspense and religious abandon. The vocal harmonies of Dr Baker approach the intensity of a cappella gregorian chants, until a devastating break of guitars unchains a piano carillon that bestows on the song a fairy-tale quality. It's Over marks a return to the simple, low-key ballad (with a touch of Third Eye Blind), as does the organ-driven psychedelic trance of Needles In My Eyes.

Gordon Anderson returned with a new project, the Aliens, that debuted with Astronomy For Dogs (Astralwerks, 2007). The music ran the gamut from acid-rock to dub and techno.

With those premises, their first album, The Beta Band (Astralwerks, 1999), was a bitter disappointment. They embraced the song format but then failed to deliver anything meaningful in that format, toying with rap (Beta Band Rap) and folk-rock (Round The Bend) the way any derivative Beck act would do. The one notable exception, though, would remain their live staple: It's Not Too Beautiful.

Following the single To You Alone/ Sequinsizer (Regal, 2000), the album Hot Shots II (EMI, 2001) marks a shocking turn of events: the Beta Band sings pop songs. Melody rules in Eclipse, Squares, Alleged. The lively Human Being and Dragons rediscover the importance of rhythm in popular music. To complete the transition, the album boasts the lush arrangement of Al Sharp (xylophone, violins, multi-tracked vocals) and Life (strings, synthesizers, bells). When they toy with electronics, they sound as competent as David Bowie. When they don't, they sound like the leftovers from an old Residents record.

In the meantime, Gordon Anderson resurfaced under the moniker Lone Pigeon and with an album, Concubine Rice (Domino, 2002), which sounds like Syd Barrett or Julian Cope (The Road Up To Harlow Square).

Heroes To Zeros (Regal, 2004) is a wildly overproduced work, but, ultimately, a lame statement of baroque pop a` la Beach Boys. Songs such as Assessment grant Beta Band a rock career (echoes of U2's I Will Follow), while Wonderful displays their potential as balladeers. But it is the eccentric pop muzak of Out-Side that dominates the proceedings. The idea is interesting for a few minutes, but over the course of an album it begins to sound like the billionth "next big thing" of Brit-pop.

The double-cd anthology The Best Of The Beta Band Music (Astralwerks, 2005) contains a disc of live recordings.

Mason formed King Biscuit Time that released Black Gold (2006).

After a long hiatus, recovering from mental instability, Gordon Anderson returned to the scenes with a new project, the Aliens. Astronomy For Dogs (Astralwerks, 2007) sounded like an attempt to filter Merseybeat, folk-rock and bubblegum of the 1960s through the lenses of the sounds of the 1990s (Setting Sun, The Happy Song).

Steve Mason formed Black Affair that released the mediocre Pleasure Pressure Point (2007).

John Maclean became a film director with Slow West (2015).

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