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The Beta Band

Heroes to Zeros (Astralwerks)

When asked by performers how to succeed in the music business, reviewers (who invariably know nothing about how to succeed in the music business) frequently offer this cavalier response: "Make good music."

If it were that simple, the Beta Band, out of Edinburgh, Scotland, would be huge. Steve Mason, John Maclean, Richard Greentree and Robin Jones have produced consistently superior work since their group's late-'90s inception, and Heroes to Zeros is no exception. Unfortunately, the new tunes are so dense and subtle that they only reveal their true quality after multiple listens. As a result, folks addicted to immediate gratification -- i.e., the majority of people in these United States -- may overlook one of the most interesting acts on the current scene.

"Assessment," the first number here, is a case in point. In other hands, the ringing guitar riff that opens the track would build to a stereotypically anthemic crescendo. Instead, the players use it to service a multi-layered slab of psychedelia marked by random instrumental passages and, near its conclusion, a quirky brass section. Later tracks are just as idiosyncratic. "Easy" rides on acoustic strumming, breezy harmonica and oddly funky keyboards, "Out-Side" juxtaposes standard rock instrumentation and electro effects to create an impressive storm of sound, and "Simple" deals with the complications of individuality. "I tried to do my own thing," Mason sings, "but the trouble with your own thing is you end up on your own."

The Betas could suffer the same fate. If they're going to be transformed from zeros to heroes, rather than the other way around, they'll need fans who are more interested in long-term satisfaction than short-term joy. Making good music is only half the battle.

 
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