We've all heard the expression, "less is more," right? It's the idea that things seem more appealing when they are purer and free of complication. Visual art is often easier to understand if it uses only one color family. Music is often lumped into a genre based on its primary instruments and beats. In all cases of art, "less is more" is an expression that aims to give the art more widespread appeal. It's an expression that does not apply in the case of the Beta Band's new album, Heroes to Zeros. Not even slightly. You can think of Heroes to Zeros as a record that observes another mantra -- more is more.
The Scottish post-modern quartet has been known for being over-the-top extravagant since their 1997 debut EP, and Heroes seems to capitalize on that reputation in ways both good and bad.
The disc pops off the first track, "Assessment," in a breezier, more comfortable manner than the Beta Band's previous works. Singer Stephen Mason breathes an earful of compassionate lyrics about hitting his head on rocks to a twinkling beat. It's a nice little toe-tapper. But then things quickly complicate with the addition of a horn section, heavy bass and about a billion other sounds. It stops, you wipe your brow -- and then Beta comes back with even more.
Echoing atmospheric ballads, tribalistic chants, '70s funk-inspired tracks, schizophrenic anthems to nature barrel down the soundtracks -- it's all very odd, though not entirely in a bad way. The Beta Band wreaks idyllic confusion with Heroes, refusing to let their music slip into just one genre. Running the gamut from electro-pop to English breakbeat, that's hardly a problem here.
But eating from every musical genre's trough on Heroes can cause listeners to get a little full at times, particularly on "Wonderful," "Troubles" and "Rhododendron" -- songs where the Beta Band attempts to slow things down a bit and turn down the lights. It feels like you're sitting in the dark and you're not quite sure what the Beta Band is trying to pull. Keep your hands off of me, Beta Band! These four Scots have a hard time pulling off the sensitive-Euro thing -- it's just not fitting, and weighs down the record with a lot of skippable tracks.
While adding more and more sounds to their music is what makes the Beta Band so appealing, there are times when Heroes needs to delete a few instruments.