Nick Zammuto, of experimental New York duo the Books, has been releasing tracks since last summer with a new band Zammuto. This impressive album is another landmark addition to the post 2000 avant-pop oeuvre, in every way the equal of Sufjan Stevens’ Age of Adz, Fol Chen or Cornelius. Like those artists, Zammuto swerve away from the baggage that most listeners would equate with experimental music, instead working their way around simple melodies, confident major chord shapes, clean guitar and drum kit sounds.
Except this music it is not simply made: it is profoundly snipped, re-contextualised, and re-framed. From the carefree drumming patterns of opener Yay, no sonic avenue is closed off, meaning the players really make their instruments sing and the editing process makes the listener double take as to what could be real and what isn’t. Performances are shredded, re-composed, hollowed out and turned upside down. Thankfully, unlike so many other ‘experimental’ electronic acts, this is not an album of directionless noodles. Pieces are structured, non-repetitive and engrossing to listen to. And joy of joys, there are even songs with lyrics which are smart, like the line “We could put an name on it but it’s not the real name” from Idiom Wind. We are in the Jean Baudrillard zone.
So where were we? Oh yes, the drumming (the excellent Sean Dixon) is lightly dusted with a stuttering sweet vocal chant on opener Yay – a minimal experiment in sonic light and shade. Melodies rock to and fro, from simple and clear to hundreds of notes busy, as they did in the Books. During Groan Man, Don’t Cry we imagine a clear sky suddenly filled with birds – that’s what some of this hopped-up programming sounds like.
It’s overcoming the challenge of keeping things that are incredibly complex sounding really simple and direct that impresses us. The string arrangements by Gene Back (also from the Books) on Idiom Wind and The Shape of Things to Come avoid the epic, and instead sway and weave like ballroom dancers.
Zammuto have bottled the sweet joy of becoming, and with what perfect timing – spring is here, and the whole world suddenly feels laden with opportunity.