The Beta Band

The Three E.P.'s

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That Oasis and Radiohead, the two biggest names in U.K. rock during the '90s, separately made claims in 1999 about creating a "Beta Band record" (even though neither band actually did) speaks volumes about the impact of The 3 E.P.'s. With reference points literally all across the map, the Beta Band still managed a sound that was startlingly fresh, broadly appealing to fans of jam bands, indie rock, electronica, and Brit-pop, which is no small feat in and of itself. Rather than a full-length debut, per se, The 3 E.P.'s is, as the name suggests, a collection of three limited-edition EPs which were released between 1997 and 1998 on the U.K. indie Regal Records. As such, the songs display an off-the-cuff charm which is as refreshing as it is unforced, revealing a natural progression by the band from humble folk/indie rock beginnings ("Dry the Rain," made famous in a brilliant scene in 2000's High Fidelity) to full-out psychedelic pop endings ("Needles in My Eye"). Throughout The 3 E.P.'s, rather than employing the typical verse-chorus-verse song structure exhausted by '90s alternative rock, the Beta Band successfully mines Krautrock, the Canterbury Scene, hip-hop drum loops, and even '70s funk and soul to build their songs around infectious beats, grooves, and melodies. And while many of the songs cause instant head-bobbing (witness High Fidelity), they are also helped along by Stephen Mason's alternately mantra-like and free-association vocal lines, which also manage to display a trace of sadness and introspection amid hippie-ish come-together sentiments. Despite a couple of experimental clunkers (the overly long instrumental "Monolith" and the rap during "The House Song"), it is precisely the Beta Band's skill at juxtaposition which prevents The 3 E.P.'s in being merely an exercise in met expectations (like the vast majority of '90s alternative rock). Although much of the album's popularity stemmed from its contrast with the tedious state of music upon its release, The 3 E.P.'s indeed transcends on many levels. Only a band without anything to lose or gain could create music like this, and in the end eclecticism has and will rarely sound better.

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