The meandering audio collages on the Beta Band's first long-player have roots in hip-hop, electronica and hippie goof-rock, but what the album frequently sounds like is a field recording of the world's weirdest karaoke bar. In the course of one of the British quartet's loosely connected tracks, singer-guitarist Stephen Mason might do an Elvis impression, muse in a childlike singsong about listening to the Beach Boys or (in "The Hard One") break into "Total Eclipse of the Heart." In Britain, the Betas have been hailed as the latest thing, but Half Japanese could have made this album 20 years ago -- if only they'd had samplers and beatboxes and smoked lots of pot.
The Betas (all former art students, of course) employ a fairly common guitar-bass-drums-DJ lineup, but layer plenty of atmospheric sounds into the mix: sea and bird noises, tinkling percussion, mumbling sing-alongs. Sometimes the result is a compellingly polyrhythmic groove, notably during a song that seems to be titled "Brokenup Abingoong." (The quartet favors illegible typefaces to complement its inscrutable music.) The point is to use the recording studio as an instrument; this is the antithesis of composed music. Even musicians who throw out accepted notions of form still need ideas, however, and when the Betas start dipping into the Bonnie Tyler songbook it suggests they're a few ideas short of a full album.
Appearing Saturday at the 9:30 club.
To hear a free Sound Bite from the Beta Band, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8122. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)