Thomas McDowall and Albert Perez, Jr., together known as Beta Bashment, are proud Minnesotans with a jones for vintage analog gear. So it’s no surprise that Beta Bashment, their debut LP, channels all kinds of synthesized goodness from post-disco to boogie to funk. And lest we traffic in genericisms, the Upper Midwest is proudly represented. Whether via name checks to beloved haunts, homages to heroes, or the adornment of distinct seasons, the band is proud to flaunt their roots across the expansive Land of 10,000 Lakes, lifejacket notwithstanding. Because if we’re drowning in anything on this 34-minute digital bulldoze, it’s rhythmic chops and baby battered slickness.
Is that clear? If not, a swift glance at the album cover might provide the needed assurances. Nothing says “I Love The ‘80s” more than a cyborg hand, positioned in the foreground of a tube television (or Vectrex gaming console); the latter with enough horizontal abstraction to entice Max Headroom out of retirement. Catch the wave, kids. This is retro candy with resonance; a love letter to Paisley Park and similar environs.
“Galaxy of Fun” starts the wizardry, as a countdown leads into the sticky slow-roll of a Bootsy Collins homage (or, for younger listeners, a bevy of ‘90s west coast rap samples). The tune is all at once spacey and lush. But once the vocoders connect, it positively vibrates. In fact, everything on this collection seems to pulse, whether by forceful judder or saccharine tingle. “4th of July” is no exception. Twinkling synths meld with near-falsetto vocals; the latter being a trademark of Bruno Mars who, in his own right, takes inspiration from a parallel jukebox of sudsy funk.
“Time and Moment” channels a futuristic Marvin Gaye with foundation shaking sensuality. “Cool” grazes all the right corners of pop with its electric sliding, upside-down moonwalking, casual drip of adrenaline. And by the time we reach “Intergalactic Love,” things feels safe enough to try that bottom-heavy shimmy across a very wet dance floor. Indeed, with each track, inhibitions peel off and sweat pours. The vibe is slippery, sexy; nearly indulgent but never exclusive. There’s no velvet rope to tier any fun.
“Top of the Weekend” plays with reconstituted bytes of Gap Band, Kool & The Gang and other wedding DJ luminaries perfect for smoking out wallflowers or exposing the rhythmically challenged. Plus, the song is a joyful ode to that first crack of a 5:00 beer. Boozy vices aside, “We Can Make It” delves into a serious Parliament-Funkadelic mind state, complete with synthetic hand claps to free your mitts for more sundry endeavors on the mothership.
Alas, as the album chugs along, its final trifecta comes off as a bit of a retread. That’s not inherently bad, even if the best ideas have, by now, been exhausted. Focus on the expensive production and deep low-end. There’s much to admire when the groove locks. And given the scuffs on this hardwood, it almost always does.
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