The Beta Band: Pure For
f course it was poignant enough already, being as it is [was], the most poignant moment of their career thus far. In the cold hard light of their demise, however, it suddenly becomes the most poignant moment of their career period, which makes it almost too much to bear, dealing, as it does, with endings. Even though it’s about beginnings. But all beginnings must necessarily come from endings. I always cry at endings.
“Beautiful things it seems to be, [you see?] go on all around me”. Meaning that you get to watch them rather than partake, as it were. Which means you’re on your own.
“I’m so glad you found me”. Meaning that, at long last, those beautiful things aren’t just going on around, that now you do get to partake. Oh.
We often forget that a work of art doesn’t need to mean something; it is something, and that in itself is enough to be beautiful without worrying about what anything means or how whoever made it felt on one cold morning when they were alone. A song can be made exceptional by one tiny little sound, one glistening instant of punctum piercing through ontology and history and biography and inserting itself straight in the heart of the listener.
What makes “Pure For” so beautiful isn’t the fact that Steve Mason sings it in the most understated and affecting manner possible (barely even a whisper, lest someone hear that he’s found the happy, lest the happy hear and feel contained and break in fright, lest it all be a momentary dream due shortly to pass), it isn’t even the quietude of the song itself, tiny noises and beguiling, backwards wafts of sound, or the careening, tubthumping drums that canter from ear-to-ear but delicately, and warmly, like friends kissing both cheeks in genuine affection and not some cod-mainland-Europe-fetish-gesture. No, what makes “Pure For” great, what makes it jump out at me, what makes it instantly a part of some vaguely but fondly remembered past (which might not even be mine) that I long to recall with scent and sight and sound as clear as now but never shall, is the yelp, the whoop, the cry that is looped through the song’s background, emerging maybe half a dozen times, maybe a dozen.
It’s buried so far in the distance, and so quietly, that it seems to be coming from the past. It sounds like someone lost in euphoria, but a euphoria that has already past, that has already died. Just someone yelping “whoo!” and it makes my heart melt, it makes me long for something I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced, the same way that “Halcyon” makes me fondly recall sitting in a country lane at 5am and seeing the sunrise after an 8-hour rave even though I’ve never done that. (Sure, there have been moments that have come close, very close, but never that specific thing, yet it resonates the experience so powerful that I feel as though I have.) “Pure For” doesn’t evoke anything so identifiable, just that sense of intangible, beautiful yearning, like when you see someone who reminds you of yourself and suddenly rivers of infinite potential unfurl once again. But of course you know that you’ve already paddled them by now. Just one sound, and when, at 2:56 in, it penetrates through the now-clattering drums, which are themselves a source of euphoria in the here-and-now, the juxtaposition is [almost] unbearable, joy and yearning intersecting disconcertingly but beautifully. Which is kind of the point of The Beta Band, to be disconcerting but beautiful. Or at least it was.
By: Nick Southall
Published on: 2004-08-18