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The Beets - Stay Home

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Artist: The Beets

Album: Stay Home

Label: Captured Tracks

Review date: Jan. 11, 2011

In my college radio days, one of the DJ’s called her favorite records twofers, because they were so good she would buy two for when she had ground the grooves down to nothing. It was a good idea, but there aren’t many records I felt that strongly about. With last year’s The Beets Spit on the Face of People Who Don’t Want to Be Cool, however, I took one listen and went out the next day to pick up another.

This might be somewhat strange to anyone who’s heard The Beets before, because a loss in fidelity for this band doesn’t really make much of an impact. It’s hard to tell if Beets songs are recorded in a trashcan or just tossed in one before going to press. The same aesthetic carries over to the live show: Juan Wauters’ battered and forcibly amplified acoustic guitar, band artist and spiritual leader Matthew Volz’s cartoonishly violent banner hanging not-so-high above the band, the Beatles covers that stop after the first chorus. Which is what makes The Beets such a revelation to most people who encounter them. To this day, it’s the only band that I’ve catcalled to play for my favorite songs. Not only does it possess such immense diamond in the rough charm, but its members also write some of the best pop tunes today that refuse to be polished.

In short, Stay Home is no exception to any of this. Every song comes from the same mold that they’ve been working with from the beginning. And as the critical mass of messy hits continues to pile up, there are new revelations that rise to the surface, as well.

To say that most Beets songs sound the same is kind of true, but it’s also wildly reductive. Familiar is a better word, and probably explains why they are so instantly likeable despite all the rough edges. Fragments from more than fifty years of pop history are lodged throughout the album, surfacing in unexpected places. “About a Girl” by way of “Love Her Madly” keeps the maudlin “Flight 14” from being too downbeat. Bobby Freeman’s “Do You Wanna Dance?” adds to the love song sentiments on “Your Name is on My Bones,” via The Ramones. And “Knock on Wood” has a little bit of every Top 40 act that’s ever written the lyric.

Where The Beets really demonstrate the wonder in four chords, however, is its ability to reference and tweak its own history as well as the broader pop context. The weave of sameness, intentional or not, makes it easier to pull out different threads of feeling, neuroses, joys, worries and obsessions. To me, the most interesting new development is the change in tenor from active recklessness to something that more closely resembles self-consciousness. Spit on the Face of People Who Don’t Want to Be Cool is a manifesto, a call to arms against posers, jerks and the generally lame. Stay Home, however, is also a statement of intent, but of the opposite behavior: not leaving the house.

Some of that probably stems from the fact that it’s easier to get wasted and play video games without putting on pants at home. But there is clearly some agoraphobia that exists. On “Dead,” The Beets go through all the motions, both musically and psychologically, that have gotten them to Stay Home. It shares the same fascination with corporeality present in early songs “The Devil” and “My Flesh, My Bones, and Me,” but this time with a focus on the existential dilemma of decay. The off-center minor chords reference the menacing impishness of the former, while the rolling opening brings the same sing-along quality of the latter. Yet there is something more serious in Wauters’ subdued, borderline spoken word performance. There’s no humor in his opening that “You are dead,” though it is sometimes difficult to tell just who exactly is getting the last laugh. When the most heartbreaking line in the “Hens and Roosters” loss-of-youth blues is “One day I was just a yellow yoke / Then I grew up bigger and I broke,” it’s hard to imagine that the sadness has ever managed to overwhelm the absurd. The familiarity of both sentiment and sound starts to border on inscrutability.

Which may be exactly what makes The Beets so good, so easy to love. The band can be as much, or as little, as you want. And most importantly, its members are never anything but themselves. Much like its fellow back-to-basics rockers in Knight School and Tyvek, The Beets never miss the opportunity to make the simple profound.

By Evan Hanlon

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