Stoned Listening: VHS or Beta's Diamonds and Death Doubles Down on the Latter

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Listen to this while high: VHS or Beta's Diamonds and Death.

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Behind the buzz: Last heard from with the ferocious Bring On the Comets in 2007 and now winnowed to founders Craig Pfunder and Mark Palgy, VHS or Beta return to a fair hairier and more stolid rock scene than the frenetic late Dubya years. Formed still further back in history's deep-freeze in 1997, the act's been accused of going pop for so long any memory of what they're supposed to have sold out from has dropped like chump change through the threadbare pockets of subcultural memory. A distant early warning the big, glossy Eighties new wave sound is chucked for a singles-based, radio-effusive approach proves worse than true.

This week's dope: The last shavings of Mars O.G., brunch of champions.

Seven and the Ragged Dubstep: The opening pulse of "Breaking Bones" and Pfunder's winsome Simon LeBon bleat shows VHS or Beta hasn't completely abandoned Thatcher-era Britpop as touchstone. This clever bit of highly marketable angst precedes the eloquent bottle service reverie "Under the Sun," in which loneliness is celebrated to something too urbane and tasteful to be excess. The title track strikes as a sophisticated sigh of closing-time boredom, particularly when the yawns are one's own. The single, "I Found a Reason," is more hopeful, rote-rhyming "fire," desire," and "higher" in an effort to raise ambient temperatures above meat-locker level, a trick "Everybody" finally manages through familiar dancefloor utopianism. "All Summer in a Day" is a vow of devotion that ends to too abruptly for credibility, but "Eyes" is an uplifting take on the same sentiment prettified by harmonies and bright synth runs. "Jellybean" closes things out with a fine burst of closing-time melancholia, giving the impression of a roving Arriflex camera in a nightclub, stopping to land briefly on every bored, ecstatic, drugged-up face before we're whisked into the indifferent night. VHS or Beta being self-crammed into the awkward position of having to compete with the likes of Cut Chemist or Sander Kleinenberg for audience share, this album is a neon-drenched blind alley.

Psychotropic verdict: Weed and dance clubs don't mix for many reasons, not least being difficulties in getting the stuff past the doorman grubbing his eleven sausage-like fingers through your gear. Worse, the music on tap within typically sports neither the variety nor bravura performance to hold a doper's distraction-seeking mind. Well, Diamonds and Death replicates the same aesthetic experience without burdens of cover charge or the hordes of eager, money-waving clubkids thinking a sleazoid-looking rocker like you must be the resident coke dealer. If you only go out to a club once a year, buy this album instead.

VHS or Beta's Diamonds and Death is out Sept. 27 on Krian Music Group/Chromosome Records.

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