Cinematic Pop Perfection

Artist : ZX+

Title : Don’t Drink The Water

Format : Album

Label : Play & Record Records

Release Date : 20th August 2015

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If you have been paying attention to my ramblings over the last few years you will have noticed, and I trust,  enjoyed, the musical journey of Stephen Evans. As part of the highly regarded The Planets he was a member of a mesmerizing song-writing team and quartet of excellent musicians who delivered some classic tunes. After leaving said band he began to operate as a solo operator as ZX+, as well as taking up bass duties with Twisted Wheel. Post Twisted Wheel he now works with partner Mary Joanna Coogan, as well as continuing his adventures with ZX+. At it is the latter of the two current projects that is the subject of this peroration.

He’s been a busy chap – the discography to date is as follows:

Albums

ZX+ (2010)

Sickly (2013)

Games for May (Fruits De Mer Double CD) (2015)

Singles/EPs

+Planets (2010)

ZX+ E.P. (2010)

In A Cover World (2010)

The Crazies (2014)

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So what of this new release? Entitled “Don’t Drink The Water”, a reference to George Romero’s cult classic “The Crazies” (not the dodgy 2010 remake), I wondered if there was some sort of concept or indeed conceptual continuity in play here. Stephen advises not:

“It’s not a concept album in a traditional sense, but I have attempted to write and structure the record with the idea of an album in mind, as opposed to the single, filler, single, filler, playlist approach of recent times. Don’t Drink The Water is a reference to The Crazies, attempting to imply, that if you do, then this is what’ll happen.”

As with all of Stephen’s work the song-writing is meticulous , the playing and structure of the music exemplary, and the overall feel of the album exciting and innovative. What we have here is intelligent modern popular music, which references the rich history of bands from this country.

So what are his Influences and what type of sound was he aiming for with this album?

“Musical influences are usually standard, bands like Pink Floyd, Kinks, Sonic Youth, Black Flag, Black Sabbath, Beatles and Nirvana. My main inspiration when recording, is to try and make the most out of what I have. 70’s production is what I was going for, I hate high end sparkly sounding songs and preferred music before those frequencies were accessible”

The album is like a movie. It has a story, it has recurring themes, musically and lyrically  and,  a beginning, a middle and an end.

The proceedings begin with previous single “The Crazies”.   Walls of guitars, and multi-layered vocals offer a cinematic tour de force comparable with Todd Rundgren around the time of “Initiation”. With a great guitar hook this makes for a great opener. “Kurtz” with a clever interchanging structure, the lyrics reference Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”, is real ear-worm with Stephen letting his northern accent come through in the delivery.  “Something Real” echoes the structure of The Crazies to some degree, there are little musical tricks with guitar sounds that repeat through the album. There is  a nod to the 60s in terms of structures and layering, but it also remains utterly modern.

The pace increases for “Mud and Rubble” which reminds me, to some degree, of The Planets at their most playful. A breathless rush of a thing with a lot of panache. The untitled track 5 starts as a simple guitar piece and develops organically into a cinematic multi-layered affair with all sorts of fascinating sounds being utilised. It moves from a slow and stately affair into an up tempo little jig with some lovely wah-wah guitar.

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The centrepiece, and stand out track for me, is the gorgeous “Pet Sematry” referencing another Stephen of course, King in this instance. Structurally it’s a nod to Family and The Weavers Answer maybe, or perhaps that’s me just joining things up that shouldn’t be in the same cosmos?  In any event it’s a fantastic piece of music. Next up “The Desert” offers a mix of tricky guitar picking and shuffling beat with Stephen going all Syd era Floyd in haze of psychedelic loveliness. Things slow down for the beautiful “Just Like That” which is good enough to have been on The White Album or Abbey Road, or something the GIbb Brothers conjured up.  Beautiful unison guitars and a silky smooth production. Another notable track on the album.

Tempo up again for the jaunty “Up and Down the Stairs” which does what says on the tin and moves up and down the fret board in a perky pop style.  The high tempo continues with perhaps the most intense piece on the album, “The Raven”, with, again luscious slide and wah-wah in the slower middle 8, creating a great dynamic. Lyrical references to Edgar Allan Poe are in evidence. A very clever tune.

“For Him Or Her” is a mid tempo instrumental ballad with a standard changes and is pure pop sensibilities. Basic in form and structure but beautifully delivered.  “Photographs” demonstrates the album is reaching a conclusion, a reflective penultimate statement,

It finishes with an instrumental, the title track,  perhaps the closing credits to our aural cinematic journey. All in all a very fine journey indeed. The tune poses the question – so what happens next?

Alongside Stephen on guitars and vocals, and drums on Something Real, Mud and Rubble,  and From Him or Her, are Mary Joanna Coogan on backing vocals on selected tracks, and the drums on the other tracks are played by  Mark Coupe.

The album will be released on CD and download, and details of how to get hold of it will no doubt appear soon.

Highly recommended for lovers of quality popular music.

Many thanks to Stephen for providing a review copy.

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4 thoughts on “Cinematic Pop Perfection

  1. HI Stephen
    Great album but please introduce yourself next time. This review should appear in Acid Dragon magazine (Lyon in English) in the autumn.

    Phil Jackson

    ZX+
    “Don’t Drink The Water”
    This CD came out of the blue one day (no accompanying contacts/ press release- ouch!) However, I was intrigued enough to give it a spin. Apparently Stephens, whose musical project this is, was a member of The Planets and the concept of the album is based on George Romero’s ‘The Crazies’ which is also the name of the first track (isn’t it also the name of a Woody Allen film from the 90s?) Evans plays all the instruments apart from drums (Mark Coupe) and Mary Joanna Coogan- vocals on some tracks and takes what I would broadly describe as a Guided By Voices approach- no extended pieces (although no snippets). I like the way different styles- acoustic, punky, rocky coalesce with one another- this is particularly evident on a series of songs beginning with the psychy ‘The Desert’ ending four tracks later with the acoustic ballad ‘For Him Or Her’. Before and in between ‘The Raven’ is an intense, quite progressive piece with references to Edgar Allen Poe while ‘Pet Semetary’ is similarly accomplished, referencing Stephen King this time. Evans is on record on his Facebook site as saying that Pink Floyd, The Kinks, Black Flag, Black Sabbath, The Beatles, Sonic Youth and Nirvana are among his influences and the carefully crafted songs are of a very high standard, as is the playing and production, with a cinematic feel about the whole project.

    1. Hi Phil – did you mean to send this direct to Stephen? I’ve let him know you have posted it here. Thanks Bob, Aural Delights

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