Zeus emerged from the primordial ooze of the Toronto music world in 2010, releasing their studio debut Say Us while simultaneously serving as Broken Social Scene’s Jason Collett’s backing band. Say Us was an easily digestible collection of pop, rock and folk; the influence of classic touchstones like the Beatles, the Stones and other ’60s and ’70s heavyweights was readily apparent. Canadian listeners enjoyed Zeus’ back to basics rock enough to garner the band a long-list nomination for the Polaris Music Prize, Canada’s foremost award for homegrown musical talent. Zeus’ second album, Busting Visions, isn’t going to shock any fans of Say Us or repel new listeners; instead, the record represents a refinement of their previously established sound and a tentative expansion into broader, more sweeping musical territory.
The album opens with a two-pronged blast that showcases the best of what the band has to offer. Opener and lead single “Are You Gonna Waste My Time?” is a backward-leaning slice of classic rock, replete with full-group harmony and bright, fuzzy riffs. “Love/Pain” is a digression into hitherto-unexplored sonic terrain; it bursts out of the gate with clashing guitar and piano before settling into an uneasy groove. Busting Visions peaks when Zeus fully realizes its knack for rollicking jams full of hills and valleys in miniature; the band likes building to multiple emotional peaks in a single song, each stronger than the last. Look no further than mid-album highlight “Strong Mind”, which burns slowly through several movements before rising to an ecstatic climax of tumbling guitar leads and sublime harmony. “Hello Tender Love” progresses in a similar fashion, alternating between an easy glide and segments of exploding instrumentation and intensity.
Unfortunately, there are moments on Busting Visions where Zeus succumb to the weight of their considerable forefathers. “With Eyes Closed” is little more than “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” pastiche, its melody a bit too close for comfort to the Beatles classic. Several shorter interstitial tracks, like “Bright Brown Opus” and “Proud and Beautiful”, are undoubtedly pretty, but ultimately weightless and insubstantial. If Zeus can manage to pull together an entire album of dense, layered cuts like “Strong Mind” and “Hello Tender Love,” Canada will have another world-conquering indie rock export to brag about.