The Beta Band excels at willful awkwardness. A few years back, its weirdo edge made the Scottish quartet hip, thanks to its reckless and High Fidelity-approved album, The Three EPs.
Unlike some byproducts of pre-Dubya days, however, the Beta Band still has a pulse. That's not to say the jams on Heroes to Zeros are more concise, or that the melodies are less dull. Rather the songs just sound better. The pointless samples and interpolations are gone. The horn arrangement that ends the cock rocker "Assessment" works wonderfully, as do the clavinet and tack piano flourishes on the folk ditty "Easy." The Beta Band also recruited Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, whose understanding of mood helps the group achieve what it probably wanted all along: a European vision of the afterlife, as captured in the oceanic guitar screech of "Liquid Bird," the icy harmonies of "Space Beatle," and the hopeful congas, church organ, and analog synth on "Rhododendron."
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The Beta Band clearly learns from its mistakes, even if that newfound wisdom merely makes Heroes to Zeros a lovelier brand of junk.