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Record Review: VHS or Beta’s Diamonds and Death

By / Posted on 10 October 2011

VHS or Beta - Diamonds and DeathIt’s been four years since we’ve last heard from VHS or Beta, and the band has been reduced to half its former size in that time. So how is it that a dance band with fewer human members can sound more human than ever before?

Diamonds and Death, the band’s third LP, is expectedly their cleanest and most crisp recording to date, as tends to happen as bands move out of their garage and onto world tours. While 2004′s Night On Fire relied heavily on guitar echos that swept across the countryside and bounced back with memories of the sights they’d seen on the way, Diamonds and Death does away with such grandiose measures to cut to the heart of the matter: the personal relationship between the rhythm and a man’s feelings. Frontman Craig Pfunder attempts to put his heart out in the open in these beats, growing out of youthful rockstar ideals and into the more realistic acceptance of failure and loss.

The simple fact is that I’m fading into silence, and I scream to hear the memories of all we used to be,” Pfunder cries on opening track “Breaking Bones,” before quickly appending the doubtful qualifier, “I’ve said too much.” By reducing the band to the core members of Craig and bassist Mark Palgey, the more straightforward dance sound of Diamonds and Death focuses with greater intensity on how these two men feel about life, love and dancing (which, of course, is little more than a combination of love and life). 2007′s Bring on the Comets suffered from sounding too much like all the other anthemic rock bands of the time, like a more soulful but less popular Jet or Coldplay. The fascinating bit about Diamonds and Death is how relying more heavily on synths and electronic elements allows Pfunder to invest more of himself in the music and stop hiding behind the pretentions of rock and roll.

At the end of the day, though, there’s no hiding the fact that VHS or Beta have never been much more than a satisfying dance rock band. Their music is perfect for fashion shows and student films, but is never going to change the way anybody sees or thinks or feels. Like Jimmy Tamborelo with Figurine, Dntel and the Postal Service, the staccato beeps and reserved synth swells of Diamonds and Death allow VHS or Beta’s humanity to shine through in direct contrast. The end result is pleasant and personal, but never impactful or declarative.


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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.