The Zouaves are cool. I’ve never meet them, and I can only find two pictures of them online. The first picture is a shot of the female bass player’s back as she steps up to a microphone. Maybe it’s the throwback vintage dress she’s wearing or the fact that she’s in a band, but I find her attractive. The second is a shot in front of the band in front of a Mexican food truck. They look sweaty as if they had just finished a set in some hot barroom, and this was the only place open where they could grab some grub at this late hour. I’m ascribing a lot to these two pictures, but they look like cool kids or at least kids that are cooler than me. They look like the kids that piss me off when I go to see a show because the men are self-important in their musical taste. Their handlebar mustaches and skinny jeans are supposed to be reminiscent of old timey strong men and masculinity. These guys are supposed to be a throwback to manliness, yet they won’t shake your hand and look you in the eye when you’re introduced. The women were giant felt hats (are they felt? I really have no idea), and push their way to the front so they form a wall of dark green and brown fabrics that prevent everyone else from seeing the show. They stand there and sip wine and talk to one another instead of listening to the music. I would image that the crowd at a Zouaves’ show is covered in sailor tattoos with few members having actually been on a boat. They are from Portland, so it shouldn’t surprise me that I view their fan base as extras from an episode of Portlandia. Again, I know I’m stretching a lot here.
I’ve never been to a Zouaves show, so maybe these feelings are more indicative of my own insecurities. I’m fatter and balder than I’ve ever been. I’m a married man and a dad. I’m covered in old punk tattoos, but the old punk in me has turned into an embarrassing father. There is an important message here though: you can’t judge a book by its cover, or more aptly, you can’t judge a band by their publicity shots. If I was to just write my review based on the pictures, I would be making a huge mistake. The Zouaves make fucking good music, and Hydracast, the band’s second album, is a fucking good album. The band produces a dark swirl of sonic chaos which feels similar to Comets on Fire, they maintain a Sonic Youth art rock vibe, and the music has elements of the start and stop fury of Fugazi. The song structure leans towards progressive, meaning they are void of pop song structure. There are no sing along choruses or monster hooks. The Zouaves ride a wave of jagged guitars. The vocals come off like a wounded and yelping Robert Smith but maintain the edge of Nick Cave minus the baritone. The sound of the band may feel like they are bursting at the seams, but though the musicianship, it is evident that they work very hard at maintaining that sound.
The album opens with the fuzzy guitar of “Soi Cowboy.” The riff of the track feels like a demented and angry take on Johnny Thunder’s “Pipeline.” It quickly spirals into a sonic orgy. It’s best to just let yourself buy into the orgy at this point. Other standout tracks include, “Wear it Thin,” “Roan,” “Welder,” and “Ghostrider.” One of the nice things about purchasing albums on vinyl is taking in the album as a whole work. You don’t skip tracks. You don’t play one single over and over (unless you have a 45), and you take in the product as a whole, a work of art, the way the artist intended you to take it in. Hydracast is best taken in as a whole work. The album hangs together well in its entirety. Each tracks flows into the next, so I feel asinine listing the standout tracks. The album is a standout album. When you listen to The Zouaves, take in their product as a whole, buy into their snake oil salesman pitch, and let yourself go into the dark post-punk bedlam.
The Zoauves release Hydracast, their first album for ÅIÖ Soundings and their second overall, on July 29th. The vinyl will be a limited release available through http://www.aiosoundings.com/, so you’ll need to hop on it quickly. As I wrap this up, I would like to pose a question to the Zoauves themselves: now that you’ve peaked my interest and pulled me into your fan base, where the hell can I buy the first album on vinyl?