You’ve probably seen it.
Midway through the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity,” John Cusack says, “I will now sell five copies of The Three E.P.’s by the Beta Band” with the self-assurance of a king. He leans down, inserts an album and presses play. “Dry the Rain” revolves into action and all the customers in Championship Vinyl start slowly, rhythmically, bobbing their heads. “Take me in and dry the rain / Take me in and dry the rain the rain the rain the rain the rain the rain now . ” a voice sings from the speakers.
Then the heavy-footed thump of the bass kicks in. The slipping, sliding strum of the guitar ascends and descends in time with the beat, and hushed maracas shake and whisper in the background. Everything moves leisurely but purposefully forward. After asking who the band he was hearing was, a man browsing through records looks up and says, “It’s good.”
Cusack just says “I know.”
That’s what makes The Three E.P.’s and the Beta Band so enchanting. Their work on this album in particular taps into something primal, something absolutely innate that is easily identifiable but hard to describe. Songs like “Dry the Rain,” “B+A” and “Dog Got a Bone,” with their heavy, easygoing beats, sound as natural as heartbeats and footfalls.
The Beta Band, a quartet of friends from Edinburgh, Scotland, formed in the late ’90s to create a unique blend of folk, electronic, ambient and indie-rock music. The greatness of “The Three E.P.’s” surely stems from its variegated origins. The record is a collection of three limited-edition EPs the band released between 1997 and 1998. The result of this amalgamation is nothing less than brilliant.
The album is dreamy without losing sight of the ground. The band never embarks on a wandering piano line without knowing exactly where it’s headed. Their choruses are repetitive without becoming dull and vapid. The band plays without abandon, strumming effortlessly and layering cerebral samples down as if it were as natural as breathing.
While the driving “Dry the Rain” starts the album off on the highest of high points, the tracks that follow are stunning as well, and range from mellow folk-rock like “It’s Over” to full-on psychedelia on tracks like “Needles in My Eyes.”
“She’s The One” jangles along with the help of an unusual yet effective mouth harp beneath Stephen Mason’s faraway vocals. His voice is so melodic that it’s easy to overlook the silly, sing-song lyrics that lead into the song’s most important idea: “Falling on your face with your stupid line brace / Saying, pop goes the weasel as he paints another easel / Grab a piece of pie / She’s your chicken in your eye . ” And then, as if to explain all his nonsense away, “She’s the one for me / She’s the one for me.”
The 15-minute “Monolith” is, well, a monolith. One of the few low points of the album, the mammoth song drones on and on. If listened to long enough, it does, however, become strangely hypnotic.
“It’s Over” is similarly monotonic, but the vocals are more fully realized and lend themselves well to the sedate ambiance of the album’s second half.
What the Beta Band is best at is creating a kind of open-ended sound. One of the most appealing aspects of the album is the ability to dissociate from the act of actually listening to it. As soon as it’s tuned out, the music of “The Three E.P.’s” creeps back into consciousness, or, as is often the case, it becomes the soundtrack to introspection.
Either way, their music slinks in and out of listeners’ ears and creates atmosphere where the once was none. No amount of description can paint and adequate sonic picture of this album. Its sensibility is so instinctive that it requires actual contact to understand.
So why is The Three E.P.’s so “good?” It just is. No amount of long-winded description or personal narrative about the first time you listened to them can do what the Beta Band does sonically – create the resounding sensation of inherent, rhythmic feeling that’s so strong it can be tangibly felt.