In 2019, experimental composer Qasim Naqvi released Teenages, a conceptually driven, avant-synth album exploring instruments “living, breathing, and mutating of their own accord.” Now, Naqvi has released Beta, a prequel to Teenages, in which the artist aims to capture the moment the instruments of Teenages came to life. Beta is then a sister album, diving deeper into the concepts of Teenages while expressing them uniquely and from a different perspective. Naqvi’s synth dots over the album’s canvas, each note presenting itself as layers of competing but similar notes work to gain attention. Containing four new tracks and concluding with a live performance of Teenages’ closer, Beta carefully walks the line between minimalism and complexity while suffering from underdevelopment, resulting in an album that sounds more like a promising concept than a fully fleshed-out project.
Beginning with “Roll Program,” Naqvi utilizes rhythm and layering to add contrast to an otherwise relatively monochrome selection of sounds. This remains the artist’s approach across the first four songs, each balancing restraint and complexity with the help of Naqvi’s direction. Still, the songs progressively gain intricacy as the album moves forward. In contrast to its predecessor, “Matic” features bursts of higher-pitched synth and delicately subtle distortion. However, both tracks share the flaw of feeling underdeveloped. When “Matic” suddenly cuts out at just over three minutes, it seems the song went nowhere; though this could be interpreted as a hint of ambient influence, the song’s bubbly texture makes it seem as if Naqvi published a sketch of a song rather than a completed piece. This problem again arises after the album’s most fully-realized original, “Onna at Pulse,” concludes. Though an engaging performance, the closer adds to the sense of underdevelopment as it is a selection from Naqvi’s previous work. It provides a concrete connection between Teenages and Beta, but this connection could have been better expressed through further-developed songs and perhaps an original closer.
Beta is a conflicted album. Where it succeeds in experimentalism, it fails in realizing its potential. The tracks are enjoyable, skillfully composed, and suit their companions well, but they struggle to establish who they are as individual pieces of music. Even Naqvi himself has said the songs felt underdeveloped during their creation but eventually became “an interesting dimension to the entire Teenages arc.” Although Naqvi’s internal vision may lend credence to this assessment, his translation of concept to product does not. Beta is certainly not a failure, but it’s not quite a success either.