The Beta Band

Ah, the Beta Band. Perhaps no other band making records right now so closely resembles the Bad News Bears as this perennially goofy Scottish quartet: On tour last summer with Radiohead playing arenas and outdoor amphitheaters the group would amble onstage before it even got dark, dressed as shamans or kings or scuba divers (or all three), and play its shaggy "folktronica" for bemused Thom Yorke devotees only there to set up their covert MiniDisc ops. The year before that they got big-upped in the film version of High Fidelity as the pet project of lovable loser John Cusack. Prior to that they flipped the script on the truckload of hype their first three EPs earned them by making a debut album so exquisitely wack it even included a 10-minute deconstruction of Bonnie Tyler's cornball '80s chestnut "Total Eclipse of the Heart."

And yet like those bad-luck baseballers, there remains something innately likable about the Beta Band, some ineffable X-factor that transforms the group's biggest missteps into its most charming attempts at making its music work. Last year's Hot Shots II (always ones for thematic consistency, these Betas) even got pretty close to a cohesive album-length statement, featuring lots of pretty guitar noodling, some suitably blunted beats and the kind of superfluous sonic debris Beck made respectable back when marrying spacey folk-rock to ominous trip-hop probably sounded like the worst idea in the world. Opener "Squares" might be their alternate-universe radio hit, riding an airy orchestral sample and singer Steve Mason's drowsy croon into the mellow-gold sunset, while the ethereal "Gone" makes obvious why Radiohead took the band along on tour (assuming the shaman costumes weren't it). But it's still the sloppy, half-finished stuff that these guys really get off on: Closer "Won" tries hard to cover Harry Nilsson's "One" but junks the melody a minute in and decides to become a Ludacris outtake instead. If you saw them last year and wondered why you showed up early, give 'em another try. Just don't be surprised when you find yourself rooting for them.


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