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Music Review: zzips – ‘20 Years Late’

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The zzips’ album, 20 Years Late, was, well, some 20 years in the making. While the accolades had started coming in when this U.K.-based band began working together, a studio flood and other significant obstacles brought everything to a halt in 2000. But the zzips are back and releasing next month their first studio album, which mixes blues-inspired guitar, hip-hop beats, electronic flavors, and country twangs, peppered with little bits of jazz and pop.

The band members’ eagerness to welcome listeners is channeled in their opening track, “Come On In”, an up-tempo, cheerful, guitar-driven, and very short folk tune. The distorted vocals and the hip-hop style scratching in the background make for an interesting contrast to the freshness of the melody for the former and the style of the instrumentation in the latter.

Many of the album’s tracks seem to be a study in contrasts. The almost cabaret-like “How Many Times” seems to ooze attitude, but the folk-inspired melody seems to indicate that perhaps it is hiding something. The lyrics indicate that perhaps it is forced and only there as a wall behind which there is a lot of pain: “Do you want me to bleed/Do you want me to get down on my knees/Do you want me to drown/Do you have to kick when I’m down/The damage is done now”.

The scratching that opens “Therapy” gives way to a mid-tempo drum-driven beat in which distorted vocals sing lyrics that again reflect a certain darkness: “You got me/You got me/Right where you want me/Down on my knees/In therapy”. The piano-driven ballad “Murder by Mistake” seems to be a gentle song about some aspect of life but turns out instead to be about killing a man “completely by mistake”. The use of higher notes in both the music and vocals makes it sound almost like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

The unique elements added to some of the tracks make them stand out, such as the almost jazz-like touches to “Scratch Cards & Junkies” – mostly because of the plucked cello. The creepiness of “We Could Be Anything” is mainly due to the long notes drawn on the keyboard underlying its entire length. This is reflected in the theme of the track: “Connected isolation/You’re never alone/Plasma radiated/Computer generated/Over saturated/We’re never alone/We could be NSA/We could be anything we want to be”.

Then again, some of the tunes are just what they seem to be. “Bad Habits” is smooth; the throbbing electronic beat fills the song with attitude, giving it a good sense of someone taking full ownership of their defiance and bad habits: “You are the one/You’re all my bad habits/Rolled into one”. The marching band feel in “All of My Everything”, courtesy of a marching drum and intermittent cymbals, makes it seem like the song’s protagonist is purposefully marching away from an unhealthy relationship: “I should have heard what everyone said”. “You gave me nothing but trouble/Nothing but lies”. It is a haunting, yet uplifting number in which both the pain of an unhealthy relationship and the strength of being able to walk away from it are addressed.

Between the folksy twang of the alternative rock ballad “Weight in Gold”, the heavy, throbbing rock country feel of “”, and the almost melancholic harmonica in “20 Years Late Again,” The zzips have put together quite an album of engaging and sometimes sticky tracks that combine different elements in a non-overwhelming way. It takes some time to get used to the contrast between some aspects of this album (namely the folk and hip-hop flavors), but they end up coming together quite well. But while they attempt to address issues prominent in British society, questioning such accepted truths as consumerism and greed, the album comes off more as a complaint than a social commentary or a call to arms.

The zzips have tracks available for streaming on SoundCloud; more information about them is available on their Facebook page.

Pictures provided by Working Brilliantly.

First published here on Blogcritics.

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