Hot Shots IIby The Beta Band
With their mix of acoustic guitars, trip-hop beats, singsong melodies, chanted choruses, and kitchen-sink instrumentation, the Beta Band amble and ramble through styles and sounds. While that could make for a confusing hodgepodge, their oh-so-catchy tunes elevate the proceedings: In the movie High Fidelity, when Rob, the record store owner, places a stack of the band's first U. S. release on the counter and proclaims, "I will now sell five copies of The 3 E.P.'s by the Beta Band," the customers can't resist bopping to "Dry the Rain." Hot Shots II avoids the excesses that occasionally marred the Scottish band's second release, 1999's The Beta Band; it's less erratic but, fortunately, no less eccentric and eclectic. Songs such as the melancholy, haunting "Gone" and the laid-back "Al Sharp" take few stylistic detours, and overall there are fewer literal bells and whistles. The album is driven by slow, captivating beats and bass lines ("Broke" even steals some Timbaland-style funk, to wonderful effect); intricately layered instrumentation; and hypnotic, memorable melodies. But Hot Shots II still has tricks up its sleeve: "Human Being" builds to an electric guitar rave-up, and the album's most willfully odd track, "Won," mingles bits of Harry Nilsson's "One" with reggae toasting, dub bass effects, turntable scratching, and references to Blondie's "The Tide Is High" -- oddly, it works. By balancing consistency with eccentricity, Hot Shots II is the Betas' best album yet.
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I saw The Beta Band when they played with Radiohead. They sound like a silent film being played back and forth again; like watching old home movies of sledding backwards and forwards; a house burning down, a train going by, an organ in the sky: brilliant.