Monday, April 26, 2010

Our Art Rocks

US Art Authority, 4/23

Because it was part of the Fusebox Festival and therefore obligated to add in a measure of awkward discomfort with the rockin' good times, it was set up so that Chat Roulette was running up on a screen behind Zorch as they played. Nothing says "art event" like unattractive men exposing their genitals. It's not as if there wasn't enough to see from the two guys making the music happen. Zorch create sounds that are intensely visual -- the descriptor "psychedelic" has really lost all meaning in Austin, but close your eyes and you'll see colors. They're also cutting-edge enough that as a musically curious person, I was fascinated just watching them play and trying to figure out which sounds were coming from where.

I appreciate the way the pair plays like a jam band, stretching out and following each other through sections and feeling their way to the changes. Watching their keyboard player was a learning experience, as his hands would often be way more or way less busy than you would expect given the music at any given time. Zorch employ very old equipment and very new computer tricks; the goal either way is to create unexpected rhythms. Whether using feel to make a very simple part funky by exploiting the way the pattern of an analog synth doesn't quite match up with the tempo of a song, or using a laptop to turn a drone into a rich burbling noise quilt, the band's combination of musicianship and technology always puts the former first.

They're not difficult to dance to, particularly if you've always had a soft spot in your heart for the impenetrably odd early-synth soundtracks to late 70's-early 80's vintage science filmstrips. Part Herbie Hancock, part "Look Around You," Zorch present a not-totally-faithful recreation of a prior generation's visions for the music of the future. I'm glad they've selected Austin and not, say, Chicago, as a homebase, because here they are very welcome to be as hirsute and as sweaty as they like. Is it so wrong to like a little Allman Brothers in your art-rock?

It's their most original element that I felt needed more emphasis in their live show. In addition to all the dub, fusion, and funk Zorch have a real talent for simple, persistent vocal melodies. Awash in echo and too far back in the mix, the vocals didn't push their live show over the top in the way they do on their demo. It's hard to sing and play drums at the same time, especially when you're handling beats this wild. But sing out and turn the reverb down -- people are going to want to hear those melodies. And the lyrics I've been able to make out from the CD are great. Get people singing along, and who needs Chat Roulette?

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