“Fast Drivers” from Anonymous, Inc.‘s Beta 1 opens with a line straight out of bebop, horns and drums playing tight together. But there’s something else going on, something that becomes more apparent as the song goes on.
There are scintillating electronic sounds shimmering in the background. The drums are put through an effect halfway through that swing into another genre, then snap back again. At the end, a fragment of a voice that cuts in and cuts out, a sense of intentional haphazardness. And it’s all over in less than a minute.
It’s a fitting introduction to Beta 1. The New Haven-based band — Ceschi on vocals, guitar, and bass, his brother David Ramos on various forms of percussion, and Max Heath on various keyboards and electronics — is known for its blistering live sets around town, as the Ramos brothers and Heath mix rock, hip hop, jazz, electronics, and a few other influences into a style born, pretty clearly, from a lot of time spent experimenting. Hear them now, and you might wonder how they came up with it all. Beta 1 gives you a glimpse.
Like David Ramos’s accompanying notes say, Beta 1, which feat the three band members as well as Danny T. Levin on horns, is a selection from “dozens, if not hundreds” of recordings the Ramos brothers made in their basement between 2001 and 2007. Some were just experiments. Some were attempts at something more fully developed. “Each represented some element of hope,” Ramos writes. “There was the hope of capturing some moment, feeling, or theme. There was the hope that somehow this one track might resonate with someone else’s shared experience.” The Ramos brothers didn’t think all the songs were good, especially with the passage of time and changes in their own personal tastes. But the ones they liked “captured the spirit of what felt like a prolific era, when writing and recording new music was an effortless ritual.”
The songs on Beta 1 sound that way. “Morning Cartoons” starts with a wobbling guitar and buzz in the distance. “Hopes on a nervous day,” Ceschi sings, quiet and plaintive. Then, without warning, a sharp beat from a drum machine crashes in, and the song gets epic, with a soaring vocal line backed up by an electronic orchestra. But even that doesn’t last long.
Fifteen seconds later, the electronic drums are gone and organic ones have taken their place, laying down a shuffle for a guitar and organ to dance around, until horns strut in. The melody that started the song now sounds like an R&B number. It all goes out in a blaze of genre-mashing, kitchen-sinking glory, seemingly figuring out just how many times it can reinvent itself, before ending with a running time of one minute, 57 minutes.
“End of Act,” meanwhile, is a pretty, pastoral song married to a pulsing drum beat that somehow manages to have it both ways; it’s both driving and soothing. “Remember” is a knotty slice of Latin jazz. “Licorice” morphs from rock to electronica, then combines the two in a woozy finale that feels like being out on the waves of the ocean, before it all gets boiled down to a simple voice and guitar.
And then there’s “Reading Brecht & Feast” which swings between intimate and huge-sounding with every minute, but then drops into hip hop in its final minute, with Ceschi’s increasingly frantic flow skittering over a wide, menacing beat.
It’s all heady stuff, the sound of a band finding out just what kind of music it wants to make, and having a lot of fun in the process. “Opening file after file, not touched since our early twenties, we found songs that represent who we were and who we have become — both as artists and as people,” Ramos writes. “Each song stimulating a different set of neurons, rekindling the shrouded memories of our youth. You can almost smell the basement: a mix of spray paint fumes, mildew, and teenage bodies. These songs are our memories; a window into who we were then.”
And, tantalizingly, it appears that three more volumes of this are coming — a way to whet the appetite for the studio release Ramos reveals the band members are currently recording. Even Beta 1, however, is a worthy document of a band that graces a New Haven stage somewhere several times a year to tear it up. Anonymous, Inc.’s sound has grown and changed since the recordings on Beta 1 were made. But the recordings show that the musicality, wit, intelligence, and emotion that keeps people coming to the band’s shows now was already in full flower years ago.