Zu – S/T EP


Some bands are meticulous about “their sound’. They want to make sure that everyone knows what they’re supposed to sound like, and they don’t let any sound permeate their music that might confuse the listener. Yes, I know a good amount of bands who like the comfort and ease that a labeled genre brings. Saying “We play punk!” is a lot easier than saying, “We play post-grunge emo psych-rock!”
Before you pass that genre off as an insane invention of a crazy reviewer, you should read this: Zu plays post-grunge emo psych-rock. Thankfully, these folks are not meticulous about their sound. I have no idea how the members of Zu came together, or how they threw together such an eclectic sound, but their sprawling, emotive noise is extremely aurally pleasing (aka radio-friendly) as well as musically challenging. And God knows there aren’t many of those bands out there today.
A major factor of the sound here is the vocals, supplied by someone in the band (the liner notes don’t credit anyone to doing anything). I’m assuming that Omar sings them, because he gets credit for writing the lyrics and writing or co-writing all of the songs. His vocals are smooth, lithe, and commanding. They brought to my mind Adam Duritz, not in tone or range, but because both singers have powerful, instantly recognizable voices that seem to inhabit songs rather than take them over.
The band’s grungy background is very evident here, but it is fused it with some psychedelic rock that brings to mind Pink Floyd (See “Sweet Water” for best example). It’s highly inventive, taking the sludge from the early 90s and pairing it with the sludge of the 70s, and – BAM – you have something that’s actually not as sludgy as you’d think, epic, and brilliant. But that’s only the first couple of songs. By the third song, the musicians are toning down their grunge leanings and mixing emo with psychedelic music in “Kaleidoscope.” This is more of Brand New emo than Taking Back Sunday emo, a bit of a hollow, vacant sound that’s tugging at your heartstrings just a tiny bit. Only a tiny bit though, because they save the all-out tearjerking for the last track, “Balloon.” “Naked Amaryllis” sees Zu pulling off the same thing as “Kaleidoscope.” By this point in the album, the hollow, sparse guitar sound is becoming a trademark of the band’s sound. It’s a good thing, because this style of guitar is usually performed by people like Damien Rice, who make a whole career without ever considering the word amplifier. “Naked Amaryllis” is the slowest track on the album, and the tempo picks up again to the speed of “slow amble’ for “So High,” where emo is fused with grunge. The breathy vocals over the repetitious scuffle of a guitar and the occasional thump of bass all come together to form one of the best tracks on the album.
“Abedeen” is grunge-lite, but Omar turns out the best vocal performance of the entire album, churning out a large range with ease, and making one heck of a catchy melody. “First to Go” is the most ominous track here, where psych, emo, and grunge all come together. It’s dark, dreary, captivating….the adjectives keep going on. This is another highlight, and if you don’t shiver when Omar spits out “How does it feel to know you’re / chosen to be the first to go,” you have the emotions of a rock. “Balloon” is a tearjerker, a surprisingly straightforward and melodic song for this outfit. It’s got a great, great chorus, and I would tell you to get this album for the chorus of “Balloon” alone if anyone would actually do it. It’s a well-fitting end to this album.
This album should start populating radio. It’s deep, it’s heavy, it’s melodic, but it’s got creativity. Zu is pioneering something here by tying all the musical ages together into one product. It’s pleasing to the critic and mildly challenging to the public. It’s virtually a perfect setup! Zu bears one other similarity to the Counting Crows: both bands’ debuts were amazing.