Now just you wait! Hold on a second! Before you go all wonky and dismiss VHS or Beta just because of short descriptions or comparisons that will lump them in with the likes of the Rapture, Interpol, or the Killers. Before you start shouting about the glut of eighties pastiche bands on the market, you have to at least give them a try. Why? Because they are so totally rad to the max, that’s why.
You may not have heard of them before or you may have heard their EP release Le Funk, a decidedly disco record with nods to nineties French electronica. If the former is the case, don’t formulate a preconceived notion quite yet. If the latter is the case, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet! The boys of VHS or Beta, a band name for all those children of the eighties, have mined the depths of the music they are truly passionate about and by which they are influenced. What they have come up with is an homage of homages, a party record of party records, and an amalgamation of music to trump all the aforementioned bands currently in the 80’s retro spotlight.
Like a beautiful combination of Duran Duran’s “Planet Earth” and The Cure’s “Let’s Go to Bed,” the title track of VHS or Beta’s Night on Fire is a glam funk dream come true. Frontman and guitarist, Craig Pfunder, the Asian guy who sounds like a cross between Robert Smith, Simon LeBon, and Mark Hollis of Talk Talk, steers the band into the territory of the ultra-cool. “You Got Me” continues in the same vein, although this time there is a hint of Q-Feel’s “Dancing in Heaven.” If the first two songs don’t make you want to start looking for the armless black and white checkered shirt you have hidden in your closet, along with either the checkered Vans or the topsiders, not to mention the D-squared, Spandau Ballet, and Modern English buttons, then I don’t know what will.
“Nightwaves” is an instrumental track with great Chk Chk Chk-like beats, segues, and transitions, and awesome disco guitars. With all of this glam, disco, and funk cred, you’d think that the band hailed from New York or L.A., but no, they’re from Louisville, Kentucky! “The Melting Room” continues the reverie as you think of the girl you wished you had asked to dance at the junior high school prom. You tried so hard to get your hair to grow long in front and hang over one eye just to look cool. You lifted weights everyday to try and bulk up your scrawny frame to fill out a tank top and it just wasn’t happening. Ok, so maybe that was just me, but the effect is the same. While some newer bands have been able to duplicate specific sounds of the eighties, with Night on Fire, VHS or Beta have recaptured those sounds, but they have recaptured the spirit of glam and romanticism that came with it.
“No Cabaret!”, a song about New York City’s cabaret laws, again recalls Chk Chk Chk, and a little bit of Talk Talk. Pfunder’s throaty whine is classic New Romantic and is a perfect complement to the disco beats and guitars driving the song. The lyrics within the band’s songs might not be the most incisive or clever, but then again, whose were in the eighties besides maybe XTC? Forever employs the keyboards and vocoder of Chea Beckley, the band’s newest member, recalling the band’s first Daft Punk-sounding album. “Alive” is probably the closest song resembling VHS or Beta’s peers such as the Killers while “Dynamize” is another extremely danceable instrumental track. With such a charismatic and talented lead singer, it’s refreshing to see that they are still daring and bold enough to not rely on him for every song and to just let the music speak for itself. And speak it does in the album’s final nine minute instrumental track, “Irreversible,” with Pfunder’s and Zeke Buck’s guitars fading and weaving in and out of each other, and held together by the usually not so subtle rhythm section of bassist Mark Palgy and drummer Mark Guidry. (By the way, did you ever think a Kentuckian named Zeke would be playing this type of music? He must have thrown out his banjo and jug at an early age.)
It’s not so much that VHS or Beta seems to be taking a little from each influence, it’s more that they are trying to encapsulate the genre as a whole while giving it a decidedly disco and funk flavor. They have succeeded, in name, in content, and in spirit. Look for VHS or Beta to break and break big, possibly even out-80’s-ing the rest of the pack. Some of today’s indie youth were too young to experience the great music of the early 80’s, some of us reveled in it, and some of us hated it. For the first group, let Night on Fire become a doorway, for the second group, Night on Fire is a must have addition to the CD library, and for the last group, VHS or Beta is here to change your mind and shake your booty!