There probably won’t ever be another group like the Beta Band.
The Beta Band defies easy classification. That, perhaps, is the reason why it became briefly synonymous with record-collector/curator cool in High Fidelity: Its smorgasbord approach to writing and recording is the sort of thing that appeals to only a niche audience. While it may have been too psychedelic for the waning years of Britpop, its trippiness didn’t come with the extensive technical noodling or prankster glee that one so often associates with jam bands or other branches of stoner music. The Beta Band just seemed to pull from whatever struck it as interesting and synthesized it all into a glorious whole, the kind of music that only this band would even attempt to make. Which is why The Three EPs has become something of a touchstone for musicians and music geeks alike, and why the collection still resonates 20 years since its initial release.
Even though the title clearly indicates this, it’s easy to forget that The Three EPs is a compilation. Collecting material from three limited-release EPs, it nevertheless plays as a fully cohesive album with similar themes and ideas explored throughout. On the whole, the material from the three individual EPs is all very rhythmic and percussive; the band clearly prioritized groove over melody in its short lifespan. As such it relied quite a bit on electronics, but what’s striking in hindsight is the real lack of novelty in what it was doing with drum machines and samplers. Whereas someone like Beck seemed to make songs where the act of sampling was something intended to draw attention, The Beta Band simply built music out of other music. It sounds absurdly simple to say it, but it was quietly revolutionary at the time and helps explain why the album is regarded as such a touchstone to this day.
Then again, it also helps that the songs are so good. There’s a reason why the music supervisors for High Fidelity picked “Dry The Rain” for the scene that name-drops the band: It’s a song whose meandering build remains utterly captivating no matter how many times one listens to it. If that was all that there was to The Three EPs, it would be enough, but the band doesn’t stop there. Each song acts as its own self-contained world brimming with enough ideas to fill multiple albums’ worth of material. “I Know” further explores the loungey darkness first touched on by groups like Basehead. “B+A” is an instrumental slow burn that uses everything in the band’s considerable toolkit as it builds to its climax. Even when the group delves into well-worn psychedelic territory, it’s in a song like “Monolith” whose structure makes psychedelia seem childish in comparison. Overall, though, the album maintains a sense of warmth and contentment, regardless of some of the dark tones intermittently scattered. Even as it revels in being as weird as it possibly can be, the Beta Band want to welcome you in.
There probably won’t ever be another group like the Beta Band. Even with technology advancing to the point that making and distributing music has become easier than ever, no one seems to have that gonzo, I’ll-try-anything-once attitude that’s exhibited on The Three EPs. It’s why no one ever tried to make a record like this even though the likes of Noel Gallagher made noise back in 1998 about wanting to make another record like this. But the effortless skill and daring attitude needed to make this music seems to have come about as the result of a unique synthesis of talent and minds, making this a unique moment in the history of pop music.