Have a meal in any restaurant these days and it may suddenly pop into your conscious mind you are being enveloped in music. It plays on—accompanying/lubricating/easing you into a devouring position. This music is generally limply tolerable, genial or cloud soft and bereft of any vexing chords, disrupting sounds or conflicting messages—no matter the skill involved. And, for sure, you know, what's wrong with a little peace of mind at suppertime?
Pleasantly assume to easily consume, right?
Well, Zs destroys that sensibility with one 8-track-entwined stroke (or a double LP wallop, if you like). Not dinner Jazz to be sure. And as usual, the onus is on us to figure out the vernacular—or if there is one. Unless, of course, you subscribe to the notion that one creates simply by destroying: Zs have a tendency to blaze through the scrub (or, rather, highly-coiffed shrubbery) without creating a new pathway, much less circumscribing where they plan to go.
At the very least New Slaves is a collection of idiosyncratic pieces merging classic musical sensibilities with downtown Jazz: both Progressive and a little Neanderthal rock; most especially Experimental/Noise; Crypto-Destructo-Ambience and whatever else it can scrounge up in its continual search for this sacred new idiom (this, the abiding backbone throughout the entirety of Z's output-the attempted disruption of eternal musical recurrence: the end (and the creation of a new) "same old, same old").
Naturally, the effort doesn't always work, even on this record, which, by my barometer, comes closer to a crystallization of a "Zs idiom" then their previous records have. It has sheen and polish (refining and abstracting what is already refined and abstracted) even while it subverts all conventional musical elements beside a minimalist crack, slap or thud for rhythm or a shimmering contortion for harmonics. In general, its sounds are nervous, taut, and ominous, manifested in ultra-skilled, frankly balls-out ways. But unfortunately, this all too often comes with the cost of being annoying as fuck. At its absolute worst, NS forgoes all connection or sentiment in this holy pursuit of theirs and in turn is a coldly monotone effort.
Still, somewhere within NS's rigorous turbo-sheen, a heart pumps a mammoth amount of blood. You cannot dismiss it. An infectious cerebral drive pushes each track. And there are inspiring moments. Drummer/Percussionist Ian Antonio's introspective marimba piece is a haunted staircase; lavish yet obscure (and a little mundane somehow). Ben Greenberg's skill can only be squinted at because at this point it's so far ahead of the pack and his harmonically twisted (literally!) guitars sound like ancient celestial spheres contracting and writhing in the intense, cold scrutiny of science. "Gentleman Amateur" is the most overtly powerful track, especially when enjoyed in a vehicle with mag wheels and jacked-up suspension. "BCC2: Six Realms" passes you through samsaric portals as Sam Hilmer's processed saxophone evolves into an instrument unheard of before—the track becomes transformation itself.
I get it Zs. You have succeeded here. You have conjured this up. But where's that familiar, evocative, sense of otherness? I want to know what can be mined in my heart not just played with in my mind. I want a new idiom towards this. I want to know myself in different ways, dammit! Where are those ineffable moods from the subtlest human moments? Those estranged (musical) metaphors? Where are the facets that go with all that shimmering? [The Social Registry]
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