Monday, September 24, 2012

Zeus: Busting Visions

There's a trap with a band's second album, which I've talked about before. If you loved the first one, as I did Zeus', it inevitably becomes a competition, and the second album inevitably loses. The first album gives you a new experience, makes an impression. If the second album is just more of the same, it pales in comparison. If it tries to find a new direction, it could be a betrayal. For me, on first listen, this was closer to the latter. It sounds close enough, but there's nothing on this album quite as immediately pleasurable to me as "Marching Through Your Head" or the rest of Say Us' second half. This one is actually kinda distant and obscure and experimental, and even if the first one was inventive and odd in its own way it sure did feel "here." This is an album I had to go to. One I had to figure out. That has its own rewards.

The band is probably moving together a bit more on this album, so the sound is more consistent and easier to characterize. There's an early-70's post-psychedelic pop/early prog rock feel to it. Moments like "With Eyes Closed" remind me of the Zombies, with its swirling, mind-searching backdrop. There are a few interludes like "Bright Brown Opus" and "Proud and Beautiful" that are meant as scenery rather than actual songs: mood-cleansers. Many of the songs, like the lovely "Let It Go, Don't Let It Go" are leisurely and thoughtful. In moments like "Love In a Game," and "Now That I've Got You" there are self-conscious invocations of piano bar music, but it's a degree or two off from Billy Joel as far as sanity goes. Think Steely Dan with edge, Supertramp with heart... or even maybe some post-breakup Beatles, the way they push at the boundaries without forgetting that they're writing songs, not symphonies.

The opening track, "Are You Gonna Waste My Time?" makes a great transition from the first album to the second. On the surface it has a gritty down-to-earth riffy nature, but subtly introduces the experimental elements that guide the songwriting. The ominous "Love Pain" is the song that makes me think specifically of John Lennon in the early 70's. A couple of tense tracks, like "Anything You Want Dear" and "Strong Mind" show how good the band is at controlling a mood. The band really knows their art, are comfortable tinkering, and the key for me was that I was having a lot of fun thinking about what they were doing.

The staggering, uphill crawl of "Hello, Tender Love" is the climax of the album for me, even though it comes on just-this-side of the middle. It rises and falls so effectively, like crashing waves that grow steadily more powerful. That last minute or so is probably the finest minute on the album. It then gets a hangover in the form of "Messenger's Way," the type bright, upbeat, playful tune that fills out the album.

I like this album, and I love this band. I love the way they do things, how they can just go for it and pursue their ideas to the fullest, following certain influences without being too reverent. You couldn't tell them how things are supposed to be, they have to find their own way there, and it's quite a trip. Busting Visions is quite an apt title.

Buy this album now: iTunes Canada // iTunes USA // //

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