You go to a hardware store, you expect someone there to know a thing or two about bolts, nuts and tile grout. Right? The same should apply, then, to buying music. You'd like to think that, wherever and however you buy your music, the person (or the Internet equivalent thereof) selling it knows more about it than you do. Or at least as much.
This would be a suitable leaping-off point for a rant about the music industry's woes, one tracing them to the moment when people who actually loved, lived for and knew an awful lot about music abandoned the industry to the bean-counters for whom that music was "product" -- no different than a cheeseburger, pair of sneakers or bottle of beer. But let's leave that out of it, at least for today. Why wallow?
Recently, I made my weekly pilgrimage to my favorite record store and did what I love to do: rummage around, looking for obscure old favorites (does anyone in town actually have a copy of Japan's "Quiet Life" or Bill Nelson's "On a Blue Wing" in stock?), wondering if I should finally break down and drop the $100-plus for a copy of the "On the Corner" box set, and hoping to somehow stumble upon something new to obsess over. Why? Well, because that's how I roll! It keeps me off the streets, too.
Sifting through the new releases, I came upon an album cover that took me instantly back to the days of heady, obscure prog-rock, back before any mention of that genre immediately conjured images of dysfunctional white males who reread "The Lord of the Rings" biannually and belonged to an online "Dungeons & Dragons" study group. Said cover depicted a massive elephant running through what looked like some sort of celestial terrain, straight at the camera. My first thought was that it might be a new Wishbone Ash album, but the masthead read "Zombi," a band I'd never heard of. So I asked the dude at the counter what it was. And guess what? He knew all about it.
"Record store dude" asked if I was familiar with Italian prog-rock legends Goblin, to which I replied rather cryptically, "Does the fire witch heed her summons to return to the court of the Crimson King?" We exchanged a knowing glance, which I interpreted as record store dude knowing exactly what I meant. "Well, you'll like this, then," he smiled.
You don't have to tell me twice. I coughed up the cash and went on my merry way, grateful for the knowledge that not every new, young band thinks that Nirvana's "Nevermind" is "old-school." You mean musicians in their 20s are making challenging, difficult music that has more to do with their desire to express themselves than with a need to show off their new haircuts on YouTube? Oh, sweet miracle of life!
Zombi, as it turns out, is a duo, from Pittsburgh, with a discography that already includes the albums "Cosmos" (but of course!) and "Surface to Air." That means I should've already been familiar with them, a failing I'll just have to learn to live with, I guess. However, over the seven days I've now owned "Spirit Animal," I've been making up for lost time by looping the thing on my iPod all but ceaselessly. It is indeed as massive and imposing as the elephant depicted thundering across the cosmic plain on its cover.
Zombi is a duo, although you wouldn't necessarily know that, based on the amount of racket the band generates. Comprised of guitarist/bassist/keyboardist Steve Moore and drummer/synthesizer player A.E. Paterra, Zombi plays epic, massive, grandiose instrumental prog-rock.
Enraptured by the recognition of seasoned tropes that had somehow been made new again, I interrupted my first listen to exclaim to my empty living room, "This sounds like early Genesis played by the Chemical Brothers at a party hosted by Tangerine Dream!" (Yes, I speak this way even when I'm talking to myself, sadly.) The empty room echoed its agreement. I hit "play" again, and dug the circling polyrhythms and looping bass figure, noting that these guys were managing to reclaim computer-based looping and sampling for the realm of live, human performance.
Of course, all of this might've been a mere exercise in self-indulgence, a clever parlor trick pulled off by a pair of slackers with massive record collections and some cool analog synths in their basements. But Moore and Paterra actually write songs, pieces that move, develop, live, breathe. I'd certainly hesitate to call this pop music -- particularly since it is vocal-free -- but there is most definitely structure and form in evidence here. It's addictive stuff.
"Spirit Animal" came with a sort of buyer's advisory sticker on it, one that claimed that you'd probably dig the music beneath the album cover if you like "Tangerine Dream, Isis, Pelican, Goblin, early Genesis, Jesu, Acid Mothers Temple, Tool, Trans Am and Don Caballero." This was not false advertising. For once.
I now love Zombi. And to think, if I had stayed home and surfed around the 'net instead of heading to the record store, I probably still wouldn't have heard of the band.