Zs - Arms
Record Label: Planaria Recordings
Release Date: 2007
New York instrumental band Zs' new release Arms is probably one of the most original that has came across this desk in the past year, and it's also one of the most complex. These days when one hears the word 'instrumental,' bands like Explosions in the Sky and Pelican come to mind. But Zs are little like either of those outfits. Instead this is heavily percussive, jazz inspired instrumental that in many places sounds a lot like a Dave Matthews Band jam session. The two brightest examples of this are opener "'B' is for Burning" and fourth song "Balk," which has a subdued, friendly feel that could be used in a children's story like Curious George. "Woodworking" coasts along, but then it fails to go anywhere. "I Can't Concentrate" is an 11-minute opus that give way to a wailing saxophone but tests the listener's patience every step.
The best songs on this album are "Nobody Wants To Be Had," and "Except When You Don't Because Sometimes You Won't." The former, much like the first two songs, lazily bounces along until a sonic wall of sound comes crashing down and a flurry of monotone vocals kick Arms into another gear. The second to last nugget, "Except When You Don't Because Sometimes You Wont" follows the same pattern and its effective and pleasing, if not a little tiring. The band lists all of its band members as vocalists, and wisps of lyrics are sung on the nine minute closer "'Z' is for Zone" which flow nicely over tinkling bells and chimes. As an album closer it leaves a lot to be desired as it crawls along leaving the listener anxious for a big crescendo. Sadly, the crescendo never arrives. If one song is ever an example of mood music, "'Z' is for Zone," is it.
Perhaps the genius of Zs though is the instrumentation. A baritone guitar, programming, and tenor saxophone dance playfully through every song and give each a Latin and calypso timbre. The music is best summed up as avant-garde math rock, with a hand deeply embedded in jazz and world music. For all its dashes of propulsive prog rock and wild time signatures, the quintet's affinity for classic jazz is its lasting value. Adorned with a multitude of mournful melodies, this an album that is both staggering and awe-inspiring and not to be taken lightly.
The lasting value of Arms is in its length; it's just seven songs. Instrumentals often have a tendency to plod along, and in each of the seven songs, there is an ample amount of dawdling. Moreover, many of the songs tease the listener into thinking a crescendo is coming and rarely is that the case. But for all its flaws, the skilled musicianship shines through. Few bands on the planet can make music this complicated and this out-of-the-box while making it sound effective. The five guys in Zs are such a band.
Note: Because vocals are sung for a duration that isn't longer than four or five minutes total AND because the lyrics uttered are probably no more than 10 lines total, the two categories are listed as N/A.. Due to this, the rating is listed as 58% but is very misleading and in fact should stand as 85%.
This is a tough album to get through but it really shines in spots.