VHS or Beta | Bring on the Comets (Astralwerks)

cd_vhsorbeta.jpgVHS or Beta are reinventing themselves by aiming for the radio as well as the clubs; the hooks on Bring on the Comets come as fast and furious as the beats.






Of all the bands that rocketed to fame in the ’00s with the glittering, dance-floor trappings of their ’80s new-wave predecessors, only The Killers and VHS or Beta seem to be interested in breaking rank with their own histories. While The Killers simply found a new source of inspiration in Bruce Springsteen, VHS or Beta are reinventing themselves by aiming for the radio as well as the clubs. Indeed, melding their gift for Daft Punk’s funked-out atmospherics with a renewed sense of pop song craft, the hooks on Bring on the Comets come as fast and furious as the beats.

The album starts with the instrumental "Euglama," which seems to serve as both a tip of the hat to fans of their all-instrumental past, as well as a stylistic bridge between their last release, Night on Fire, and their latest long player. Unexpectedly, the album makes a sudden left turn with the massive power chords that introduce "Love in My Pocket," a sound so intense and surprising, I could only compare it with getting hit smack in the face with bright sunlight upon exiting an all-night rave. This is the sound of a band forging a brand new path for themselves, without particularly caring to wait around to see if you’ll follow.

Of course, the band’s new rave identity that put them on the map hasn’t completely been thrown in the ’80s time capsule with the Z. Cavariccis and Doc Martens. Witness the rhythm section of Mark Palgy and Mark Guidry launch into "She Says" like vintage U2, and listen for the Rio-era Nick Rhodes keyboard sequencer bubbling under "Take It or Leave It." Chief Beta songsmith Craig Pfunder and producer Brandon Mason keep the rock ‘n’ roll disco ball spinning at such an unrelenting, red-hot pace, it’s very easy to forget how much more detailed the arrangements are this time around. Most notably, the super-catchy single "Can’t Believe a Word" and the majestic "The Stars Where We Came From" are quite possibly the best songs Pfunder has ever written. 

The fist-pumping choruses get a few breaks in tracks like the ambient instrumental "Alpha Theta," and the sweeping and introspective title cut. It’s only on "Time Stands Still" that the band seems to fall back into the old familiar bag of tricks and turns that brought them from Louisville to dance floors around the world. True, the planet doesn’t really need any more bands throwing their respective hats into the arena rock ring, but it’s nice to see a band like this take chances. They’ve come a long way from the days of On and On and Le Funk, and hopefully their increasingly impressive songwriting and adherence to their unique musical identity will keep them from flying off the road and into the retro-heap junkyards of tomorrow. A- | Jim Ousley

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