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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See Stephen Play

ZX+

Fruits De Mer Releases

S Evans

When he is not assisting partner Mary Joanna with her musical ventures Stephen Evans continues to make fascinating music with his excellent ZX+ project. Stephen sent through two CDs worth of material the other day and mighty fine it is too.

The first CDs worth of material will be released as part of the Fruits De Mer members club package under the broad heading of “Games for May”.   Stephen has   an album coming out this year and he says  “a lot of these songs are ones that didn’t make it on the album, some are covers and some are off the older albums”.  The first CD comes as part of a “goodie bag” tied in with a gig at the Half Moon Putney on May 24th – more details here. The second CD is for the Fruits De Mer event “The 13th Dream Of Dr. Sardonicus – the Fruits de Mer Festival of Psychedelia” – which runs from 7th-9th August, 2015. Stephen says there are T Shirts as well!

As a statement of the ZX+ project to date it makes for great introduction to Stephen’s work covering the wide range of styles his music encompasses. Tracks from the excellent 2013 album “Sickly”,  the initial 2010 ZX+  release,  plus a number of covers including an excellent version of the Floyd’s  “Jugband Blues” and The Rolling Stones “She’s A Rainbow”  plus some brand new songs which all go to make up a collection of psychedelic, indie, experimental and altogether unique sounds.

The albums will be featured on the Aural Delights podcast in a fortnight.

DISCOGRAPHY TO DATE

Albums

ZX+ – ZX+ (2010)

ZX+ – Sickly (2013)

Singles/EPs

ZX+ – +Planets (2010)

ZX+ – ZX+ E.P. (2010)

ZX+ – In A Cover World (2010)

ZX+ – The Crazies (2014)

 

 

Mud, Rubble and Rock n Roll

A rather fine evening (Saturday 28th June) at the Bank Top Tavern in Oldham with a stunning set from Factory Acts, and an admittedly ramshackle but rather joyous affair from Kill Pretty rounded off a busy week musical. Bank Top Tavern is a good venue, and there was a good crowd, many plaudits to Jeff Grainger for organising the whole thing. Highly recommended as a place to watch live music.

Talking of live music there are a pile of gigs coming up if you like the sort of stuff I play on my Podcasts……

Yob
Yob photo credit ©James Rexroad

Yob and Pallbearer are embarking on a tour of titanic proportions this September, both performing in support of their respective new albums. The tour date  confirmed for the Greater Mancunia area is Friday, September 05, at The Roadhouse. They are at the Brudenall in Leeds on the 7th if you cannot make the Manchester date.  For Pallbearer, who recently announced the arrival of their much anticipated new full length Foundations Of Burden (to be released on Profound Lore in August), this marks their first full European tour. The band have said that they are “beyond thrilled” to announce these dates opening for the mighty Yob. Supporting their monumental new album, Clearing The Path To Ascend (which Neurot Recordings are releasing in September) Yob are excited to be returning to the UK and Europe, and both bands couldn’t have picked a better time to share their new material.

Ought have confirmed a tour with dates in the UK and Ireland this November, this follows the recent news of their two upcoming summer festival appearances at ATP’s Jabberwocky and Green Man. Given the praise for their recently released and thrilling debut album, More Than Any Other Day (Constellation Records), this promises to be a great run of shows.  They are playing Sound Control, Manchester on November 18th.

Angry Scousers Corrupt Moral Alter have their debut full length “Mechanical Tides” out on July18th via Season of Mist – they have a string of dates coming up, none of which in the Manchester area – nearest options are 23rd July Maguires, Liverpool and 24th July Packhorse, Leeds. The album is described as a mixture of sludge and punk – looking forward to getting an advance copy to share with you via podcast.

Late this Summer, Southern Lord will release all of the material from late 1980s Seattle hardcore band, Brotherhood, collecting the influential act’s demos and 7″ releases in one remastered, cohesive anthology entitled Till Death Brotherhood was formed during the West Coast Hardcore surge in the same days of Insted, Bl’ast, Chain Of Strength and Uniform Choice, the members all bred in the Northwest on The Accused, Poison Idea, The Melvins, and with East Coast threads born of SSD, DYS, Corrosion Of Conformity and Straight Ahead all comparatively woven into their sound. A straightedge hardcore band that confronted racism, sexism and intolerance, both in their lyrical delivery and on stage with ill-mannered show attendees, Brotherhood was a rare band of this scene as they were accepted in all of the subgenres of punk rock and hardcore, even receiving praise in the — at the time — very anti-straightedge publication MaximumRockNRoll, as they did in the many adamant straight edge fanzines of the time. This near universal acceptance can be clearly be attributed to the many years each member of the band had spent previous to Brotherhood in bands, publishing fanzines, booking shows and promoting bands as well as their strong desire to buck most trends that came their way and forge something new.

 

The band was founded in Seattle by Greg Anderson in 1987, who recruited former False Liberty drummer Victor Hart, friend Ken Hagel on bass and East Coast transplant and Open Your Eyes fanzine editor, John White on vocals. After years as a singer in False Liberty and Inner Strength, Greg picked up the guitar and started writing songs built upon the aforementioned influences. Following local shows and the opportunity to open for such legends as Youth Of Today, Angry Samoans and Fugazi, Brotherhood began to gain recognition on a much wider scale in the hardcore community. This initial lineup was not to last, as in 1988, Ron Guardipee Of Hateful Youth took over on vocals and Nate Mendel of Diddly Squat joined on bass. Having played many times together in their previous bands things quickly came together for this new and much more solid Brotherhood lineup and in November of that year the Music Bank recording session was conducted. Debuting this new lineup on the Pushead curated Thrasher Magazine’s Skate Rock Vol. 7 compilation Brotherhood soon also released their Of Friends demo, their No Tolerance For Ignorance 7″ on Skate Edge Records and Words Run… As Thick As Blood! 7″ on CR Records, all released in 1988 and 89. Playing throughout the Northwest US as well as a North American tour with (quite possibly the bands biggest influence) Seattle’s The Accused, by the end of 1989 Brotherhood came to an end. Their relatively short-lived run went on to inspire many of the seminal bands that have followed in Hardcore and Straight Edge such as Undertow, Unbroken, Champion, No Tolerance and many more.   Members of Brotherhood have since forged numerous other musical endeavours including, but by no means limited to, Christ On A Crutch, Sunny Day Real Estate, Foo Fighters, Resolution, Digh Down, Burning Witch, Engine Kid, Sunn O)) and Goatsnake.   Southern Lord will release Till Death in deluxe LP and digital download packages in September. A confirmed street date, preorders and more on the album will be made available in the coming weeks.

As Earth make their way through the South Pacific as part of their ongoing tour through Japan, New Zealand and Australia, building up to the release of their tenth studio collection, Primitive And Deadly, we are delighted to reveal the very first audio insight into the album, as an early surprise for the band’s vast international fanbase.  The third of the six movements on the hour-long Primitive And Deadly is the sprawling eleven-and-a-half minute “From The Zodiacal Light,” which you can listen to below. Check out my Earth retrospective podcast here.

Ethereal doom trio, Ides Of Gemini, are preparing to unveil their sophomore offering, Old World New Wave, via Neurot Recordings this September.

 

 Ides Of Gemini features guitarist Jason Bennett, drummer Kelly Johnston-Gibson and the haunting vocal prowess of singer/bassist Sera Timms, also of Los Angeles dark-psych conjurors Black Mare. The follow-up to the band’s 2012 Constantinople debut, which Pitchfork christened “darkly beautiful,” and Terrorizer likened to, “a metallic-filtered kinship to Cocteau Twins and Mazzy Star,” Old World New Wave was recorded at Valley Recording in Burbank, California, engineered and mixed by Chris Rakestraw (Danzig), mastered by Grammy award winning producer, Matt Hyde (Slayer) and boasts the striking hand-drawn cover art of Johnston-Gibson.

 

Comments Timms of the offering, “For Old World New Wave we all really coalesced as a band, and were able to work off one another’s strengths. J came up with the basic concept and musical framework of the album, and Kelly and I gave it form and identity. For me, my own personal musical identity, taste, preferences etc. were eclipsed by the power of the music which worked as an animate force unto itself-so much so that I cannot listen to any of it objectively, or tell you if it’s good or bad, but I can tell you that it’s distinctively Ides Of Gemini

 

Adds Johnston-Gibson of the images surrounding the record, “The artwork is an interpretation of Sera’s lyrical narrative, which carries over themes from Constantinople, as well as symbolic of transformations experienced by us as individuals and inevitably as a band. The minimalist, direct style of the cover and accompanying illustrations is indicative of our energies combined to create one clear, singular force, as experienced through the music, while the visual content has more to do with the story: essentially a conflict between opposing energies leading to destruction, therefore allowing a clean slate for integration of opposites into a resurrected whole.

 

Old World New Wave will be released on CD and digitally via Neurot Recordings and on vinyl via SIGE Records on September 15th, 2014. In the meantime, check out the teaser video

And finally, the productive Mr Stephen Evans has sent another tune to me, this time under his ZX+ name, it’s a short, sharp and rather fine tune, he says he has a bit more recording to do and then he will have a new release, looking foward to that ……in the mean time enjoy this one

 

Plus Points

ZX+

Sickly

Play and Record Records

Release: 25th April 2013

Lots of things make their way into the listening alcove here at Aural Delights HQ. Over the last few years I’ve consumed and filed away a serious amount of music, indeed I’ve been trying to catalogue it all recently, which has been a time consuming, but ultimately rewarding experience. A lot of it you don’t get see me whittering on about on here – mainly because it’s not up to the rather high standard I have set for playing music on the radio, and now the podcasts, and for writing about.

It’s also been my pleasure of late,  to see a large number of very impressive local bands and musicians plying their art in the pubs and bars of this metropolis. One of those bands, who I was particularly fond of, is no more and one of its’ former  members, who wishes to retain a degree of anonymity for the purposes of this portion of his music,  happens to be who I am writing about on this occasion.

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This is the 5th collection of tunes I have had the pleasure of listening to from the mysterious ZX+. In simple terms it’s safe to say that he deals in quirky and progressive english music delivered with a substantial amount of style, exquisite technique in the guitar department, and delightful vocals. It is, without any doubt, his best work to date.

For ten of your pounds you will get a handsome slab of white vinyl (of which there are only 250 copies in existence) and fourteen rather marvellous tracks.  You will also get a varied, indeed, eclectic collection of music, which is a fascinating listening experience.

Matters commence with a nugget of garage pop in “He Said He Was A Taxi Driver” which is both driven (see what I did there) and infectious and proceeds through the leisurely “Sickly” and the jaunty “Kiss Kiss”, which moves through several complex parts and is utterly marvellous,  to the very more-ish para skank of  “Dolph” – one of several references to “action heroes” in the collection.

The perky acoustic pop of “Rebecca” is followed by the moody and intense “Wrong About Her”, and then more garage pop via “Waiting for a Quantum” and “Seagal” which dwells on channel hopping and the more obscure end of TV Output and has a nice riffy middle part which leads into stunning closing section. Next up is the dreamy “Logan” which has delicious guitar tones and a lovely wah-wah solo and some tasty slide guitar which fades away far too quickly for my liking.

“And now it’s blood” brings back that slight Jamaican feel and morphs into something quite different indeed – with buzz saw guitars and intense vocals, it’s one of the highlights of the album. The closing trio of the impressive “Smile” with it’s shifts in tempo and structure (and a subtle use of mouth harp), the jittery “Brick” which comes across as mutant frat-boy pop, and the elegaic closer “Instrumental” (which is indeed an instrumental) are a tasty dessert to a sumptuous musical feast.

As a purveyor of 21st century Anglo-centric music ZX+ is the latest in a long line of great songwriters like Ray Davies, Nick Lowe and Robyn Hitchcock, who compose memorable music with great lyrics. I recommend this album to you unreservedly.

You can acquire said artefact here http://www.playandrecordrecords.blogspot.co.uk/ – and I suggest you do as it is, all in all, rather fine indeed!