[Arts & Crafts; 2012]

I’m still not completely sure what a “busting vision” is, exactly. As far as titles go, this one is clunky but feels appropriate belonging to a product channeling a certain degree of indulgence: a low-budget pornography or an album by a band that really wants you to find them psychedelic, for example. In a lot of ways, a title is the first line of that which is communicated by a piece of art, and when it’s good it prepares its audience for consumption and accumulates further meaning upon digestion. It’s a pretty powerful mode of controlling how we read, watch, or listen, and by providing overarching context well, an artist frames our experience with their own on a level above the actual “text.” You don’t need me to point out examples. So what do we have to inquire of an album called Busting Visions, the second full-length from Zeus, a rock ‘n roll band on Toronto’s impressive Arts & Crafts label? Personally, I expected the whole thing to be in 3-D.

Anyway, about a billion years in rock-time ago, The Beatles established themselves as the supreme overlords of rock ‘n roll Mount Olympus, and it was good. Their influence is inescapable, and is mostly forgivable, even in the cases of bands that don’t mind being a little obvious in using what The Beatles accomplished as a launching point for their own quip in the musical continuum. Dr. Dog and Tame Impala come to mind. As with all things, however, there is a risky duality to homage and too often it comes off as thievery or worse: cheese, kitsch, Jet. Generously, what Zeus offers here is none of these things, but even as it tries to be something big, the finished product is woefully unadventurous, greedy in what it borrows, and traditional bordering dangerously on cliche.

That said, there are occasions in the album’s 45 minutes that are pretty good. The guitars are varied and sit nicely, if too comfortably, in the mix. You can tell that the band is having a good time on tracks like “Love/Pain” and “Stop the Train,” which are kind of endearing as efforts to diversify. The former even reaches for something as it momentarily dissolves into slop before the easy opening riff of “Anything You Want Dear,” which rises promisingly before a chorus as bewilderingly conventional as the resolution of a Jennifer Aniston movie. I get it, love is to be celebrated, and I’m all about celebration. But I’m also of the opinion that there is a quality in minutiae, or rather the tangible details of what is being celebrated. Here, a profound emotion is on display and we’re on the other side of the glass.

“Are You Gonna Waste My Time?” opens Busting Visions (seriously, did no one say it out loud?) with a hard-panned tremolo-drenched intro the recalls The Who so much we’re like, “is this The Who?” and by the two-minute mark we basically know what everything is going to sound like. The vocals are strong enough, and the supporting harmonies are actually really great, but never does more than a few bars go by that we don’t feel like the band is trying to get one over on us. Is that closing riff of “Are You Gonna…” directly aped from “Werewolves of London”? It isn’t, but you see the problem. Listen to “With Eyes Closed” and try not to think of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” “Strong Mind” into “Big Brown Opus” (ew?) highlights the other major issue, which is that sort of unattained ambition. The former is catchy enough and has a pretty, albeit a tad sentimental, chorus, but is cluttered by bizzaro digressions into what I guess is supposed to be experimentation. When the jamming meshes, it’s fun, but often it doesn’t. There is an impression that this record really wants to hit it out of the park, and this unchecked vision is largely what leaves the whole thing feeling indulgent. “Big Brown Opus” is a guitar solo over what sounds like “Linus and Lucy,” with horns and everything. It’s the Zeus-day parade, everybody.