Album Review: VHS or Beta – Diamonds and Death

The chord progression on opener “Breaking Bones” feels very “done at home on Garage Band”. But at the 30 second mark, it’s clear that Diamonds and Death is no such affair. VHS or Beta‘s Craig Pfunder sings with authority; just before the two minute mark, the seal is broken and the remainder of the song is an all-out field day. Truly, very few openers hit with this much power, and the Brooklyn-via-Louisville electro-pop duo packs a punch.

And when they’re on, they’re on. Title track “Diamonds and Death” is a spectacle from every angle – Pfunder’s vocals are the absolute strongest of his career, the beat is catchy, and its slow build is reminiscent of an LCD Soundsystem banger. As Pfunder commandingly croons, “Don’t leave me for diamonds and death” and the track bursts into life, it’s very easy to believe that VHS or Beta may be the next Cut Copy.

But the album takes a spiraling nose-dive after its first three tracks. It’s almost baffling how good two of the first three tracks are in comparison to how “meh” the next five are. Despite their cleanest production to date and their largest soundscapes, the band fails to use the platform for anything spectacular. The one minor saving grace in the eight track effort is “Watch Out”, a dazzling disco melody with a hook as catchy as can be. But it’s not enough flair to save the poor album from itself.

Diamonds and Death could have very easily been great. A duo as good at what they do is seldom found, Pfunder is as strong a vocalist as any in the genre, and their repetitive melodies and beats are good, but had they spent a little more time on this album and come out with great repetitious beats (something like, say, The Field’s latest), this album would have been spectacular. As is, it’s a messy hodgepodge of disco, electronic, and funk that you’ve heard done better elsewhere.

Essential Tracks: “Breaking Bones”, “Diamonds and Death”, “Watch Out”


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