The Beta Band

Hot Shots II

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Following an LP that was slagged by even the group themselves before release, the Beta Band got down to business for their second proper record. While their self-titled debut reveled in a near-blinding collage of samples, synthpads, noise, and obtuse figures, for Hot Shots II the group took a much different path. Many of the tracks are (comparatively) quiet songs, the productions pared down to minimal proportions and focused on slow, darkly descending chords. The band's methods are innovative as before, but now they've taken on the challenge of saying more with less -- with fewer production fragments to obscure the songs, they're left to survive on their own. During the opener "Squares," a minute passes before the song even begins to make sense; a few glimpses of beats and basslines are the only accompaniment to Stephen Mason's chanted vocals, until the chorus sweeps in to reveal a tight, beautiful trip-hop-with-strings production. "Gone" does well with just bass, piano, and background vocals from the band. Elsewhere, the Beta Band rely on spare bits -- stuttered acoustic guitar samples, whining melodica, regal horns in the background -- to get their point across, but aren't afraid to rock out either. While the songwriting certainly isn't direct, it's much less consciously inscrutable compared to the madcap toss-offs spread over The Beta Band. Understandably suspicious when the group promised an even better record their second time out, listeners have the proof with Hot Shots II.

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