What’s in a name? The Beta Band is a really cool band name, but I have no idea what it means in terms of the kind of music they make. My first thoughts are that The Beta Band is probably some kind of punk band, or noise, or loud indie rock. Maybe even electronica. But whatever they make, I found their album Heroes to Zeroes sited on some random best of the millennium list. And there are worse reasons to listen to a band. I assume.
I’m sure the original use of the phrase ‘wall of sound’ in no way meant music like this, but that’s the first description that came to mind as Assessment came at me. It’s in no way aggressive or overbearing, it’s just really full. The constant guitars, the driving drums, the layers of vocals, even a horn section in the big climax…. There’s so much going on, so many instruments, so much sound. But it’s all mixed together in a way that it sounds like one enormous beast, not a collection of smaller ones.
With a hint of psychedelia, Space takes a lot of the same ingredients, but makes something slightly on the trippy side of things. And an almost identical vocal sound to that in Assessment works just as well in this HR Puffnstuf-esque world. Putting away the electric guitars and finger pickin’ the ol’ acoustic while tappin’ on the ol’ tambourine, Lion Thief sees the hippy vibes of Space and raises. Almost like it’s trying to put me in a trance, I’m worried listening to this song could result in waking up in a strange room, next to a dead hooker.
The deeper I get into Heroes to Zeroes, the more Assessment feels like and anomaly. Because Easy, Wonderful and Troubles continue further and further down that road of psychedelic contemplation, washing over me more and more with every passing song.
I know this will sound like a slam, but I say it as someone who really enjoys the hypnotic sound of this album. But I wonder if even The Beta Band ever has trouble telling their songs apart? Like, when they play live, do they ever start on the intro to one song, before mistakenly getting to the chorus of another, then playing the bridge from a third?
Then, almost like they heard my snide comment, Heroes to Zeroes comes out swinging with Out-Side. Even with vocals that don’t really differ too much form previous songs, this is a balls out rock song. And it’s awesome. Things get really out of character with Liquid Bird. It’s electronic and industrial and like absolutely nothing else on Heroes to Zeroes. I think I like it as an individual song, but in the context of this album it just sticks out like dog’s balls. So I guess your own opinion on dog’s balls will determine whether you like Liquid Bird or not.
The name Beta Band, the comic book, superhero imagery on the album cover… Neither could have had me any less prepared for the kind of music this band makes. For some reason, I was expecting some kind of punk, or noise, or loud indie rock. Even electronica would have surprised me less than what I got. And it’s that surprise about what I got that I liked most about Heroes to Zereos. Psychedelic trippiness for a new millennium that I didn’t even know my life was missing until I heard it in action.