ZOZOBRA- Harmonic Tremors (Hydra Head Records)
With a band compromised solely of two ex-OLD MAN GLOOM members, it seems logical that the music (and name, if you know the story) of ZOZOBRA will reflect the same kind of quirkiness and creativity that describes their former band. Indeed it does, albeit to varying degrees of success, on the group's debut Harmonic Tremors
, the first album of 2007 to be released by the always-excellent Hydra Head Records. Brainchild of guitarist/vocalist Caleb Scotfield (who was also part of the influential alternative rock band CAVE IN), ZOZOBRA live up to the wonderful aesthetic of their name by creating an album that is not easy to categorize at all, though the elements that make up the songs on Harmonic Tremors
are pretty easily distinguishable, ranging from psychedelic to sludge to alternative to hardcore and more. The vocals are generally where the hardcore elements come out, providing an aggressive edge when appropriate. However, Scotfield also uses clean vocals much of the time, which give off a 90's alternative rock feel. The drumming of Santos Montano is also highly inventive and essential to the ZOZOBRA sound, without his playing the music would definitely not come out in the same way, about as big a compliment as can be paid to a drummer. His snare sound is also among the best that I've heard. There is no doubt that this album takes multiple listens to sink in, and can be a little hard to adjust to at first, but it clearly possess its own strange atmosphere, one of star-filled New Mexico night skies wandering through endless desert landscapes just before the sun rises. When a band can take their surroundings into account when making music and somehow communicate that through sound, its one of the most amazing things in the world, and while ZOZOBRA still need some time to perfect this art, Harmonic Tremors
remains a solid work of art that falls into its own special niche.
While the music varies quite a bit through the album, and even within the songs themselves, it never ends up sounding merely like different genres thrown together merely for the sake of doing so, which is a style better suited for the more eclectic acts that are focused less on creating a album that communicates emotion than one to showcase their music skills, which clearly ZOZOBRA possess without having to flaunt excessively. The heavy sludge vibe of the brilliant "Soon To Follow" is underlined by some subtle guitar effects that add that spacey vibe to the punishing riffs, followed by a shift to some stoner rock stylings. The album opener "The Blessing" really encapsulates ZOZOBRA's sound, while "Levitator" includes a vaguely industrial element to accompany a stirring post-rock main riff. Some killer bass groove stomp out of songs like "Invisible Wolves" and "The Vast Expanse", the later of which might have the most incredible atmosphere on the whole album, along with Scotfield's best singing on the record. Some of the other tunes like "Caldera" and "Peripheral Lows" don't carry the same weightiness of the rest of the album to me, though they don't sound out of context and fit in with the atmosphere. In such cases when the happier alternative rock influence comes out more prominently, its not as powerful and doesn't provide much more than a counterpart to the denser moments. The one time they really nail the melding of the two sides I think is in the closer "A Distant Star Fades", a song with overall less heaviness but nonetheless still powerful, with the crushing final riff section just towering over everything.
ZOZOBRA have succeeded in making their presence felt in the underground music world with Harmonic Tremors
, and hopefully this will only be the start to a great line of albums from these two great musicians.