It’s telling that for their second album, Queens, N.Y.’s The Beets chose Stay Home as a title, both alluding to and contradicting their self-proclaimed idols The Ramones. Likewise The Beets’ lo-fi recording aesthetic and shambolic approach to playing and singing suggests any number of ragged garage bands schooled by punk and any other assortment of rock oddities.
Comparisons to bands like Thee Oh Sees and, obviously, The Ramones, hum around The Beets like fruit flies, without giving credence to the band’s role as sly contrarians and willful outsiders. The band’s debut was called, somewhat ironically and completely fittingly, Spit In The Face of People Who Don’t Want To Be Cool.
Let The Poison Out, The Beets’ third album and first for Hardly Art, continues the band’s ongoing trend of incremental improvements in both instrumental ability and sonic fidelity, and in that sense at least, it’s the band’s best album.
It also supposedly marks the end of the rapid succession of drummers, with the placement of Chie Mori. Bassist Jose Garcia has said of the new drummer, “If this doesn’t work out, then no more Beets.”
Now solidified as a kind-of-quartet (fourth member Matthew Volz contributes the crayon-drawing album covers and occasionally plays recorder), The Beets have also found themselves in the situation of being on a bit of a pedestal. They’ve been hand-picked for opening slots by Pavement and The Mountain Goats — whose leader John Darnielle wrote that his introduction to the band, a video of a Beets performance, “has a quietly awesome power and isn’t making much of an effort to assert itself. It just sits there being better than other stuff.”
But The Beets have cleverly avoided setting a too-high bar for themselves. Frontman Juan Wauters maintains his lackadaisical strum patterns and nasal holler. The songs don’t veer in new directions, they mostly just sound a little bit better. The noisy interlude “Eat No Dick 3” follows the sequential series established by first album Spit In The Face of People Who Don’t Want to Be Cool and its follow-up Stay Home.
The charm of The Beets is in the band’s resilient dedication to its simplistic sound and image. It’s not hard to imagine The Beets as a misguided Brooklyn-in-the-blog-age Hasil Adkins, or an endearing naif in the vein of Daniel Johnston, but The Beets also seem to approach their music with a wink. The buoyant “Doing As I Do” begins with a punchline — “Don’t be afraid you will not die,” they sing together, “And if you die, whatever” — but winds its way into theological territory. The way Beat Happening’s childlike melodies often cloaked something much darker, The Beets’ purposefully rudimentary sing-alongs often poke playfully at heavy themes.
Let The Poison Out marks no departure for The Beets, and it shows few signs of greater ambition. The Beets, like The Ramones, knew who they were on their debut album; from here on out, we can just expect variations on the theme.