The Beets - "Friends of Friends" (Let the Poison Out)
“A collection of 13 songs about letting the poison out of your system by the Beets,” reads the line-drawn cover of this third album from the Jackson Heights band. The art, as per usual by Matt Volz, is colorful and primitive, showing grinning girls murdering ghosts in various ways (cutting, burning, whacking with a baseball bat). And so, right away, before even listening, we are confronted with the main elements of this album — the childish glee, the violence, the giddy-colored simplicity of its sawed-off garage pop.
Let the Poison Out is a good deal cleaner and clearer than The Beets’ debut, Spit on the Face of People Who Don’t Want to be Cool, thanks possibly to production by Gary Olsen of Ladybug Transistor, who also defuzzed Crystal Stilts on their Radiant Door EP. Yet, unlike some bands that turn out to have nothing underneath once you’ve cleared the murk away, this modestly higher-fi treatment only heightens the case for The Beets. There are some great songs here, slouching on shambling beats, bursting from ravaged guitar riffs — Howard Stern, comparing The Beets to The Ramones on his show last year, was not that far off.
The Ramones were a pop band that played so fast and rough, casual fans didn’t notice how carefully constructed the songs were. The Beets, too, shroud well-turned melodies in scratchy hairshirt layers of static. Their best songs seem tossed off and casual until you find yourself humming them under your breath. There’s a really sticky tune, for instance, under the slow-clanging, hard-banging, guitar chords of “You Don’t Want Kids to Be Dead,” one that, in other hands, might be delicate and melancholy, but here stands defiant and belligerent, scoffing at mortality (but also a little freaked by it). “Without You” is romantic pop unstrung to the point of dissolution, but its slurred, slowed melody remains beautiful in your head. And the fastest, most frantic song here, the guitar-scrabbling, drum-pummeling “Friend of Friends” may just be the best one, its tune as artistic (and as artfully blurred and smudged) as anything Joey ever wrote.
The Beets have been a Dusted favorite for a while – Doug Mosurock suffered a flesh wound and liked it at a show for their first album, while Evan Hanlon bought not one but two copies of Spit in the Face. Let the Poison Out only ups the ante. Distortion is easy and lo-fi bands are a dime a dozen, but hardly any of them clean up this well.