Zack Hillman

REVIEW: Ultra Zook – EPUZ

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France’s Ultra Zook offers a startling blend of jazz, rock, and deconstruction on EPUZ, the first in a series of three EP’s. This band is certainly not for the faint of ear, but won’t come as any real shock to people who grew up with Frank Zappa records. The songs offer harmonic daring in smartly concise song structures—as if they were attempting a miniature version of Bitches Brew, but taking more care to hit the hard beats. The end result is challenging, yet accessible; esoteric, yet thrillingly fun!

The promotional information on this band promised an immersive experience, which the five tracks fully deliver. With the haunted-mansion tonality that many of the songs employ, the listener may find himself attempting to pull cobwebs out of his hair. This style is most pronounced on the concluding “No Phono Sound,” which besieges the listener with Phantom of the Opera keyboard tones and repetitive vocals chanted by Big Brother. The song switches into a more sparse section, which is entirely more menacing because of its minimal, ramshackle arrangement. Then the monolithic main section returns, growing more dissonant and gargantuan until the song and album abruptly end.

Similar diabolic flourishes abound in “Papier Bitte Schnell,” with its barreling bass line and vibrato-drenched keyboard parts. The song alternates between the fast and hard main section, and sparser segments, which almost resemble fanfare in their triplet-feel. Of course, the lyrics translate roughly to “Paper quickly, please,” and are sung in a style that imitates Rammstein: the result is that the song is absurdly hilarious, undercutting what would otherwise be an intimidating throw down track. This sense of humor is crucial to keeping the album from being too dark and engrossing. When the song ends on notes of joy, then, it’s not so shocking to the listener.

Other tracks are unabashed fun, such as the opening “Dance Broccoli Dance.” Starting with kick drum and hand claps before soothing vocals come in, the song features a very Caribbean feel. Yet, the band doesn’t stop there: they also throw in gliding bass, a synth pad that resembles a slide whistle, and intricately over-phased guitars to kick the track into the high-octane stratosphere. Truly, the track feels like you are being slingshotted into outer space about a minute-and-a-half in. The midsection has a more pronounced march feel, with some ominous, Handel-esque chords gliding over the intricacies of the guitar and drum rolls. The fast paced section returns as the church organ continues to mount over the top, the whole track building and building until it reaches a resolution reminiscent of a mass.

The whole album is enjoyable from start to finish. “Pasta Diva” features the weirdest main section of any song on the entire album. The racing, bracing refrain cements the rhythm section’s prowess, deftly holding down the beat as the keyboardist conjures any swirling, unfriendly sound he can coax out of his instrument. The song continually modulates toward the end, but without a clear resolution. This is the type of musical frustration that, seemingly, this band loves to unleash on their unsuspecting listeners. When “Les Valse Des Titans Gays” comes rollicking in, though, the two songs sound like two incongruous halves of an eccentric whole. “Titans” features plenty of weird harmonies in its midsections, sure, but they come out organically, and other than “Dance Broccoli Dance” this is the most freewheeling and carefree song on the album. The band’s ability is nothing less than stellar, in making two such disparate songs sound like logical counterparts of one another.

Evil, fun, deft, hilarious, noisy, melodic… whatever you want to call EPUZ, don’t forget to mention thrilling. This album is cathartic—the type of album that keeps you up at night because you want to listen to it repeatedly. Truly a surprise, this album makes you greedy for more. Hopefully, Ultra Zook will release the other two EP’s soon. Or, better yet, play some West Coast shows. From all reports, these musical mad scientists wear fluorescent masks under black lights, and perform their music in a post-apocalyptic, Laser-Tag-on-acid fashion. Such pandemonium sounds welcome. And, if EPUZ is any indicator, everything that this band produces will be worth pursu

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