VHS or Beta – Night On Fire

This album makes me admittedly scared on first listen. I’ve heard good things (and bad) about VHS or Beta, but something smells a bit derivative. The post punk/dance/electroclash/NYC (re)movement has started to ware quite thin, and at first listen this feels like another band thrown on the same dwindling fire. But they aren’t from NYC. Is that a redeeming quality? After a minute or two of the title track, the dancepunk cliché has taken a backseat in my mind. There is definitely some later-eighties Cure in this band. Both the pre-emo nasal wail of the lead singer and the bubbly “Hot Hot Hot” styled bass and clicking drum track.

I must admit that my attempt to write off the band as another piece of litter in the pile of recently fashionable trash culture is somewhat of a scenester knee-jerk reaction. On closer inspection, VHS or Beta actually respects their music’s roots, rather than using it as an ironic tool like many of their modern counterparts. This band actually likes Duran Duran and New Order and it shows. The music feels less like trendy retro, and more like a rediscovered gem from the era the band worships.

Now I’m pissed off. I had myself all worked up to deliver a condescending, yet witty, review of this album, perhaps venting frustrations in my own life by tearing the metaphysical shit out of this CD. But now it is growing on me. It is by no means groundbreaking, but that is apparently not what the band was shooting for. They were trying to revive Duran Duran and make them cool again, but without the femme clothes. That is exactly what they have succeeded in doing. If the leftover New Romantics have been without a band to cling to as patron saints, they now have that void filled by VHS or Beta. 

“I’m not leaving you anymore,” they sing in the upbeat chorus of “The Melting Moon.” If that is a promise, then the band at least has a chance to develop beyond this, their sophomore album. There is definitely something that can be done with the Robert Smith vocals and angular but hooky guitar lines. If only they would get rid of that bloody drum loop. I swear, it sounds like they use the same one in every song, plus or minus a tambourine here and there. This band is not the savior of indie dance music, but they may be John the Baptist. A voice crying in the wilderness, “prepare ye the way of Bernard Sumner!”

(Astralwerks)