1. “Jep Shuffle” – Holy ’57. All of the lessons we learned about infectious pop songs from Tokyo Police Club, Vampire Weekend, and Lord Huron are crammed into this nigh-on-perfect indie-pop-rock song. I got this in the midst of a long Friday afternoon, and it cheered me up and caused me to dance in my seat. It’s just absolutely great.
2. “Make Me Change My Mind” – Jonah Smith. A fusion of garage-rock instrumentation with soul-style lead and background vocals turns out quite the infectious jam.
3. “Two Suns” – Jacob Mondry. It’s been a good run recently for horn sections. Mondry’s triumphant soul horns are pressed into service here for a snazzy, swaggering pop song.
4. “Pretty Thing” – HEAVY HEART. Continuing their song-a-month project, HH drops a low-slung rock track that reminds of Silversun Pickups with a female vocalist.
5. “Some Other Dude” – Everywhere. The electro-pop instrumentation here is a lot of fun. The quirky honesty and unusual phrasing (“I think I lost my groove / now she’s dancing / dancing with some other dude”) endeared me to the track even more.
6. “Thanks for Your Time” – Late Cambrian. Late Cambrian sets this track apart from its MGMT-influenced electro-pop brethren with a grimy, distorted bass synth that’s more common in house music. It creates a really interesting vibe.
7. “Simple Game” – Mackin Carroll. Equal parts Oasis and Death Cab kept me on my toes throughout this engaging pop-rock track.
8. “Clementine” – Dion Atlas. Sometimes you just need a skyscraping, cinematic, piano-led electro-pop jam in your life.
Making “serious music” is always kind of a gamble. When you’re making standard pop music, you can pretty much guarantee that at the very least, drunk guys at the bar are going to think you’re freakin’ awesome and buy a CD. But when you’re making a statement and causing people to think about your music, dudebro is actually disinclined to like your music. You need real fans, or you need leathery skin to keep doing it in the face of animosity.
I’m not sure which side of the fence ZUU falls on, but they fall somewhere.Everywhere is serious music in the vein of OK Computer, Bloc Party’s Intimacy, and the like. There’s few hooks to hang your ears on, and there’s enough foggy mood and atmosphere to make Seattle jealous. ZUU’s chops are on display, and they’re writing songs that are powerful.
The problem is that I have no idea what they’re trying to say. While the mood is consistent throughout, there are few to no clues as to the meaning of the album. The title is unhelpful, the art is pretty but not revealing, and the lyrics don’t seem to have any overt theme tying them together. I could be missing something on the lyrical front, but if you have to try that hard to even glean the slightest hint of what’s going on, that’s a problem.
So, scratching the album as a whole (which is unfortunate, because I really think they’re trying to say something), the songs individually are pretty solid. Their best work comes when the bass player dominates the song and the guitarist does atmospheric work, a la the Edge. “Sigh,” “Only One” and “Resolve” are the tracks that really shine, as they flaunt their talents (interlocking guitar parts, smooth vocals, rhythm, cohesiveness of songwriting). When the guitars kick it into distortion (“Wasted Today,” “Loaded”), a lot of the songwriting chemistry is covered up. The heavier songs, while not bad, are just not impressive, because much of the draw of ZUU is lost.
There’s a slight psychedelic edge to these songs, as well as a slight African bent because of the percussion choices. But it’s not enough to make a huge difference on the overall feel of the album, which lands somewhere between a piano-less The National and a less-guitar-happy Radiohead. “Weaning Nettles” and “Only One” are the best tracks here, and worth a look even if you don’t do the whole album.
ZUU has significant chops and great songwriting skills. They just didn’t tie the whole package together right this time. I think that they can definitely accomplish a project of major magnitude if they set out to do so. If that’s not their goal, then I’m a little lost. Recommended for major fans of serious music, but the world at large should wait for ZUU’s next offering.