Out on the North Carolina coastline, nestled between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean, Wilmington-based duo Beta Radio took the pandemic-allotted opportunity to buckle down and write. Bound together by three previous albums and a lifetime of friendship, Beta Radio has amassed a broad following with standout tracks like “On The Frame,” “Tongue Tied,” and “Our Remains”—the latter two songs featured on the duo’s widely acclaimed third album and Nettwerk debut, Ancient Transition (2018).
Over the course of a year, their new album Year of Love—due June 11—captures Benjamin “Ben” Mabry and Brent Holloman in unprecedented stillness, allowing creative energy to flow without thematic bounds they’ve previously placed upon their work.
“Before, we tried to be very intentional about the group of songs we would place within a collection,” they tell American Songwriter over the phone. “This time, we went in with a new idea—to just let whatever happens, happen. Everything changed about our daily lives and it began to inform the album.”
Year of Love wields the duo’s multi-instrumental talent to evoke serenity in the face of debilitating uncertainty. Orchestral experimentation with arpeggiated synth and strings combined with their thoughtfully crafted folk lyricism, emit an incandescent optimism to penetrate the shadowed nature of the 2020 experience.
“As of late, I’ve tried to avoid writing about love,” says Mabry. “I feel it’s been done much, but everything changed and it reoriented my lens on what’s important. But I had to be careful. If it were ‘love is the most important thing’ through a Hallmark lens, all of the alarm bells would go off indicating it was too cheesey. But having a new perspective, and could see it in a different light. It’s not the Hallmark thing, it’s truly at the essence of our being.”
Following suit to their broader album approach, Beta Radio shared their work song-by-song as the project came together. Every six weeks, the duo released a song. With each track, a fuller story came to life.
The first EP, Way of Love, arrived in August, highlighted by a sweeping title track featuring The National’s Bryan Devendorf on drums and veteran trumpeter/arranger CJ Camerieri (Paul Simon, Bon Iver) on horns. Along with the title track and the album opener, “There’s Something I Want To Say,” “It Doesn’t Really Feel Like Spring,” and “Destined to Pretend,” all a take new form as part of the broader album project.
Released in January 2021, Afraid of Love, collected additional new material that emerged in the latter half of the year. The title track employs strings from Grammy award-winning musician/arranger Rob Moose (Bon Iver, Paul Simon, Taylor Swift, Alabama Shakes), to exhibit their evolved perspective of love. The album borrows the EP opener, “There’s Something I Want To Say” to introduce their exploratory compilation. Like a lullaby, the entrance hypnotic entrance ushers in a new chapter for the duo.
“Hope You Change Your Mind” is the duo’s first duet-style song, featuring Holloman’s wife Amanda’s honeyed harmonies. The song, Mabry says, “is about not wanting something very meaningful to me to end.
“We’ve been wanting to do a real duet style song with Amanda for a while now,” he continues. “As soon as I put pen to paper, it felt like this song was calling out for that. We’ve been kicking this song around for a couple years, but, as with so much in our lives, this one took time, space, pain and life to be realized.”
Ahead of the release, the duo previewed the collection with an evocative instrumental single “The Lowlands.”
“From the beginning, we’ve always loved writing instrumental songs,” says Holloman. “‘The Lowlands’ is an exercise in trying to hold the tension for as long as possible musically speaking, while still being (hopefully) enjoyable. We wanted it to not be predictable, but to flow from one part to another. Finding bits and pieces of it along the way, it came together over a few years.”
The titular “Year of Love” serves as a delicate conclusion to this think-piece. From one tragedy to another, the two artists steadfastly clung to the endurance of love, echoing sentiments through exploration to arrange an ethereal soundscape.
“It seemed right to call the whole thing Year of Love not just because the last song has the same name, but more than that, because we dig redemption and healing, and seeing the tragedy and sorrow of the past year made it seem even more necessary,” says Beta Radio. “2020 was a global tragedy. But sometimes it takes tragedy and absolute breakdown to bring about a breakthrough and hopefully, understanding and love. Maybe this year will bring more of that.”
Pre-save Beta Radio’s Year of Love, here.