Track of the Day

TRACK OF THE DAY: ZoZo – ‘A Bitter Gourd’

Talking Heads’ influence on music is inarguable, but when I come across acts drawing comparison to Byrne and company, I’m all too often inordinately surprised. Such was the case with ZoZo, the Leeds export taking the CHUNK DIY collective to the next level of weirdness.

On first listening, the angular sharpness of latest release, ‘A Bitter Gourd,’ struck me as utterly distasteful – I was turned off by the singer’s voice, and to boot, the first verse consisted entirely of singing the same note “over and over and over again” (as they put it in the lyrics)! However I persevered beyond the first two minutes and found myself taken aback at just how much the track grew on me. This alarming trend continued upon repeat listenings – had I taken leave of my senses? Had my prized musical instincts been outfoxed?

The track itself begins with approximately 10 seconds of guitar diarrhoea splattered Beefheart-esquely over virulently treble-heavy bass and snare drum crescendo. Random notes congeal unpleasantly with piercing tones, giving one the distinct sensation of formication. This chaos is abruptly jettisoned, however, in favour of the sounding out of a Celtic battlecry arriving in the form of a harmonised dual lead guitar riff. The whole song has a vaguely militaristic air to it – a particularly bold producer might have thought to include bagpipes. Indeed, after far too many repetitions of the double-guitar-warhorn lick, we are treated to a queasily modal melody, intoned on saxophone that I initially mistook for actual bagpipes.

It’s getting up to the minute-and-half mark before we finally get some vocals. They arrive in the form of a monotonous drone-voice, each syllable hitting the same note. There is no melody, rhythm and lyricism are relied upon to stimulate the listener’s interest.

Having the same conversation
over and over and over again
miming, playing a small violin
over and over and over again
Considering the chance of a monolingual world
over and over and over again
seeing histories bound in alps I can’t tell??? [This is my best approximation, but with ten repeat listenings, turns out that I really can’t tell either…]

Is this supposed to be profound in some way? The press release for the song states that “lyrically, it touches on topics of consumerism, isolation, memory and violence,” but I’m struggling to make the connection between these themes and the bit about miming and playing a small violin…

After this confusing exposition, the song lurches into a break that is somewhat reminiscent of ‘A-Punk’-era Vampire Weekend, and the singer musters some more barely intelligible drivel that seems to concern the most popular colour of paint in the world.

“What is the most seen colour in the world/ and is it bright or matte or dull or a little bit brighter/ also does it clean/ also does it run…,” I really don’t know what to make of it to be honest.

The track is not without technical merit, the energy in the instrumentation is electric, and the musicians are clearly technically adept. Special credit goes to the drummer, who is really the star of the show to my ears. Small details like the way the rolling lurches in the bass in the break sections combine with the hi-hat step give the track a irresistibly restless energy that only grows and multiplies with each repetition. It’s five-and-a-half minutes long, but you certainly don’t feel the length at the end when the band are really letting loose – if anything it’s the beginning of the track that struggles to get going. The frantic feeling is accelerated by the increasing density of instrumentation in the later stages of the track and the final 30 seconds descend into an adrenaline-pumping frenzy that leaves you feeling “experienced,” for lack of a better word.

But is ‘A Bitter Gourd’ actually any good? Who knows, to be honest? The second half of the track is certainly enjoyable, but is “good” even a relevant term here? It is not without physical appeal, and I imagine it lends itself very well to the live experience, but I struggle to make any sense of the lyrical content. One might draw comparison to ‘Once In A Lifetime,’ but the lyrics there are infinitely more tangible than ZoZo’s bizarre musings about “the most seen colour in the world”.

Perhaps humour is the band’s intention – I get the sense there is an element of weirdness for it’s own sake inherent. The title could even be interpreted as a penile pun. But who’s to say that’s a bad thing, after all? And if they’ve achieved their artistic ambitions in spades, then perhaps they deserve credit. In any case, I’m definitely going to make a point of going to see ZoZo live, since I imagine it would be an unforgettable experience, one way or another.

ZoZo will release ‘A Bitter Gourd’ EP through Hatch Records on 10th November 2017.

Find ZoZo on Facebook.

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