My appreciation for Beta Band records doesn't deepen over time; I typically love them for the first few spins, after which my interest slowly dwindles to the point of abject indifference. After a few weeks' exposure to Hot Shots II
, I couldn't even stay awake through the entire record. Heroes to Zeros
isn't as consistently boring, and actually includes some of my favorite Beta Band material to date, but I've definitely reached a point where ready access to the "skip" button is essential.
"Assessment"'s rumbling drums, jingling tambourine, stabbing guitars and smoothly psychedelic vocals are a powerful opening gambit, reminiscent of early U2, but there's a bigger payoff at the end -- a feverish, brass-assisted instrumental jam that soars to energetic peaks seldom associated with the group. Later, we're treated to the stellar "Out-Side" -- an avalanche of garage rock riffs, bells and wall-of-sound percussion connected by slow, swirly, floaty interludes in which Steve Mason sings "I love your way" like a man with unlimited refills on his vicodin prescription. Something about the song suggests a post-millennial Pop Will Eat Itself -- perhaps the barking dog sample that pops up on a few line-ends, or the Stooge-y guitars. There's definitely some cutting and pasting going on here.
Taken as a group, Heroes to Zeros' slower songs are the musical equivalent of a month-long sinus infection: heavy on the repetition, sleepy detachment and sensory deprivation. Most of them have a redeeming feature or two -- "Space"'s thick-as-a-brick rhythm, "Lion Thief"'s subtle whucka-whucka guitar, "Pure For"'s crusty-style Happy Mondays rethink -- but "Wonderful", with its vague, snaky "Paint it Black" nod and stupefyingly sedated chorus, seems destined to deflect the attentions of all but the most chemically modified listeners. If that's your idea of wonderful, a few hours of C-Span will probably send you into cardiac arrest.