Despite having a wrongly placed apostrophe in their band name, the ZZZ’s continue to grow in stature, developing their scratchy, clanging no wave sound in more complex artistic directions. Vocals are a far less integral part of Magnetica than of the previous year’s Prescription, but then tracks like DNA and Busy Bee makes the guitars sing in ever more creative ways. The arrangements too offer more diversity, with Drippin’ starting a dance-punk track with call and response vocals interspersed with almost industrial noise, and (A Man Looks Into) the Hole containing both gothic and dub elements. It’s all expertly put together and produced in the scuzziest good taste by Jonathan Kreinik, whose Boombox Magnetica studio gives the EP its title, and helped establish the ZZZ’s as the hippest thing in contemporary Japanese postpunk in 2013.
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Given that many bands in Japan will take years between releases, it’s excellent to see so many of the bands behind last year’s highlights returning to the studio so soon, and it’s especially great when there’s obvious, clear progression in evidence. Recorded in Brooklyn with Jonathan Kreinik (Le Tigre, !!!, The Rapture are all relevant elements of his CV here), Magnetica opens with the tense, minimal instrumental DNA, which builds gradually into a guitar slashing fury that simply drops away before it can climax. Busy Bee sees the trio in more familiar, propulsive territory to their 2012 Prescription EP/mini album, although vocals are again restricted to gothic backing wails, the guitar shrieking over the top with a voice of its own. (A Man Looks Into) the Hole is the first track to really use vocals, but it nevertheless pushes its own way forward. Where the songs off Prescription were all somewhere in their core straightforward, devastatingly effective punk rock songs, wrapped up in the sonic acoutrements of experimental music, here we find the ZZZ’s tackling the songwriting and arrangements from right out of leftfield, combining no wave and psychedelia in a disorientatingly structured way, partly reminiscent of 154-era Wire. Final track Drippin’ sees the group taking on Pop Group-style funk-punk noise, with call and response vocals interspersed with guitar that sound like it’s being played with a circular saw rather than anything so mundane as mere human fingers, and it’s a thrilling close to an EP that, while undeniably raw, is nonetheless immaculately pitched sonically and sees the band breaking free of punk rock restrictions and primed to blossom into yet more fascinating and exciting things.
Not my writing, but my colleague Shawn Despres has a couple of features in today’s JT on interesting bands that I also recommend. The first is on Kyoto indie band Hotel Mexico, whose new album I think shows a growing maturity and some fine songwriting, and the second is on Kansai no wave trio the ZZZ’s (I hate the apostrophe, but the band are the ones who put it there), who were No.13 in my 2012 top 20, and whose gig at Club Asia I’ll actually be DJing at in just over a week. Both bands are ace, so please check them out.
Formed by former members of glam-garage weirdos Hystoic Vein, this currently New York-based no wave noise trio’s self-released debut CD/R comes delivered in a sealed plastic medical packet, although what malady this particular prescription has been made out to cure is anyone’s guess. From the contents of the CD, it seems to be a remedy for a chronic deficiency in shrieking, dentist drill guitar solos, vampish vocal growls and hyperkinetic, proto-metal drum rattles.
Teenage Jesus & The Jerks are an obvious reference point, but they were never as good a bunch of musicians as The ZZZs, whose every move is delivered with brutal, technical efficiency beneath the veiling squall of clattering, bottleneck guitar noise skronk. In fact the whole CD exudes confidence, and while with many postpunk and no wave bands, the appeal comes in part from the listener’s sense of following the band while they feel their way through the music as if discovering their own songs for the first time while they play them, with the ZZZs there’s a sense that what we are witnessing an already fully-formed group who know exactly what they are doing every step of the way.
Dystopia opens the EP driven by a powerful, uncompromising flurry of fierce, grinding bass, shifting rhythms and hysterical, metallic guitar, while the more conventionally structured G’s suggests something of the band’s garage-punk roots, at the same time recalling elements of UK postpunkers Wire’s Once is Enough in its repetitive two-note guitar riff. The core of what the ZZZs do, however, is explosive energy, either delivered in fierce bursts after tense, repressed buildups as on Suicide, or right from the get go, as on Red Light. They chop and change between different rhythmical segments, but without the math-rockish overlapping complexity of some Japanese postpunk contemporaries like Tokyo’s Tacobonds or The Mornings, and at heart, the music on Shōhōsen (Prescription) is aggressive and fundamentally accessible rock’n’roll, made by a group of musicians no longer satisfied by the restrictions of garage rock and now employing more avant-garde tools in the service of their still essentially primal musical goals.
Needless to say it’s ruthlessly effective and hits you like a punch to the gut. Whatever kind of medicine the ZZZs are peddling here, it’s brutal stuff. Always close lid firmly and keep out of reach of young children.