(Captured Tracks; 2011)
By Maura McAndrew | 19 January 2011
In the summer of 2009, I saw the Beets open for Vivian Girls at Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum. I’d never heard of them, but they looked to be nothing too impressive anyway: three skinny young men wearing sunglasses indoors and at night, making semi-ironic stage banter and banging inexpertly away at their instruments. Yeah all right.
Still, there was something so ingratiating about the Beets’ joyful, simple sound that when the show ended I passed right over the Vivian Girls merch and bought the Beets’ first LP, Spit in the Face of People Who Don’t Want to Be Cool (2009). A staple on my stereo throughout that fall, the record was fresh, naïve, imaginative—kind of like a collection of Daniel Johnston songs sans the “struggling with personal demons” part.
As the title indicates, Stay Home, the Beets’ follow-up, ponders the life of a homebody, and fittingly: despite their professed interest in being cool, these guys aren’t party boys much at all. The band—guitarist Juan Wauters, bassist Jose Garcia, and drummer Jacob Warstler—resides in innocuous Jackson Heights, Queens, where Wauters and Garcia spent their adolescence (though Wauters emigrated from Uruguay). Stay Home is more of the same that made their debut so infectious: rock songs played with childlike enthusiasm, and impossibly catchy hooks. It’s hard to care if it’s a carefully plotted gimmick, or if indeed the Beets are just naturally kind of sloppy and cheerful—Stay Home is too sunny for much to really matter at all.
The two songs most clearly related to the album’s core concept are “Watching T.V.” and “Hens and Roosters.” The former seems more of a celebration, supplementing its shouted chorus (“Watching television / Watching televisio-on!”) and one unintelligible verse with a slab of Nuggets-style guitar. “Hens and Roosters,” on the other hand, confronts that painful, familiar twenty-something reluctance to grow up, to crawl back home to Mom and Dad. Wauters sings, “One day I was just a yellow yoke / Then I grew up bigger and I broke.” Banging along on a woozy acoustic guitar, he declares without shame, “Now I wanna go back to my egg.”
Stay Home, upbeat as it is, doesn’t shy away from the heavier musings that accompany staying in and lying on one’s bed. There’s an acute ambivalence the Beets find in taking control of one’s life (“Just a Whim”) and, inevitably, themes of death and decay creep into songs like “Dead” and “Let it Dim.” Despite this, lyrics are decidedly not the focus of Stay Home; the album title suits its homemade aesthetic, all tossed off and tinny but warm, words mumbled and barely discernible, like being in a sun-streaked kitchen for brunch.
That’s where the heart of the album is, in that broken-down acoustic guitar, in that smirking, slurry vocal delivery, and in the pots-and-pans drumming. Nonsense tunes like “Pops N’ Me” are comprised of a series of slowed-down “whoas” dissolving into delirium. The host of influences colliding here adds to the air of happy confusion: “Cold Lips” and “Young Girls” combine the obvious Beatles sound with the sneering punk of contemporaries the Black Lips and the quirky sensibility of the Modern Lovers. Which makes one think there’s a lot more depth to Stay Home than on first listen, though the superficial pleasures of that first listen are so great that “depth” is less a necessity, more of a bonus. Half-baked and juvenile, sloppy but cheerful, fresh and joyful, the Beets may be plugging a gimmick, but at least they’re doing something with themselves.