The Beets either don’t care at all if anyone hears them, or they care way, way too much. There’s no in-between. Like a number of indie-pop acts cropping up these days, the Beets deal in a fuzzy, lo-fi world. It rendered them nearly incoherent on their first record, Spit in the Face of People Who Don’t Want to Be Cool, but on Stay Home they brush off a little bit of the fuzz so you can at least make out the words. Still, these guys sound like a field recording of drunken hipsters shout-singing in the alley outside their favorite dive bar. The songs sound tossed-off, thrown down on record once and forgotten.
The trouble with that idea—and what makes me think they might put a whole lot of care into these dusty little numbers—is that these songs are basic, but they can be awfully good. It’s pretty simple stuff, with guitars ringing out chords, bass hitting mostly the chords’ root notes, the drums chugging along in the back. Throw in bassist Jose Garcia and guitarist Juan Wauters shouting over the mess and you’ve got the makings of some quick but bracing pop songs.
There’s also a pretty basic thematic premise here. As you can imagine from the title, these songs are indeed about staying home. “Watching TV” is about, well, watching television, and so on. Coupled with the shoddy fidelity, this home-body focus can certainly come off as a big old shrug. Even when, on “Watching TV” or the shuffling “Cold Lips”, they amp up the energy, it’s hard not to hear them sinking into that couch they’ve resigned themselves to. So while they have a thematic focus, it may be one with a limited reach.
However, what keeps Stay Home interesting, and separates the Beets from many of their lo-fi ilk, is their ability to reel us back in often enough to this domestic set of songs. It’s not the jangling energy of their quickest songs that knock us sideways, either. In fact, those are the moments where they sound the most indistinct. No, the Beets’ strength is in shifting moods, often to something more layered and darker than their sound might initially seem capable of. “Just a Whim” chugs along at a mid-tempo pace, but it doesn’t drag at all. “I would do it but I know it’s just a whim by now”, Garcia and Wauters bleat out, and it sounds less like that yawning artifice and more like genuine regret and resignation. The guitar chords echo that sentiment, amping themselves up to a quick roll before winding back down to a steady, default strum. Closer “Flight 14” achieves a similar trick. The singing hits an unexpectedly high register, and all of a sudden the control in their shouting has yielded to a more untethered howling. Guitars don’t tighten up in tense, clustered-up chords, but instead ring out into the space around them.
These are the moments that will win you over eventually on Stay Home. They have a quiet intricacy to them, turning into songs that are simple, but where the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. These standouts, of course, will also make you wonder about some of the overly simple tracks on the record. This ramshackle garage-folk sound works for the Beets, to be sure, but some songs—see “Floating” and “Young Girl”—sound deliberately careless, tossed off for the sake of holding onto an image. It’s when they forget themselves, when the mood deepens and melodies tighten, that the Beets show who they really are. You see it often enough on Stay Home, but you’d also think those talents could shine brighter if they got off the couch and stepped outside their safety zone.
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// Notes from the Road
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