ZEALOUS CHANG "ZC EP" REVIEW, DECEMBER '14
Perth-cum-Melbourne sound wizard Jimmy Chang is the kind of guy who will materialise behind you at a gig or party with a frosty tinny in hand, flash you a wildly contagious grin, and readily dive into a jocular yarn or an energised boogie, all while wearing a shaggy blonde surfer’s coif and a Space Jam jacket. Given his larrikin aura, you might expect his music to be some kind of rough and jokey garage pop or whatever. Not so – Chang spends his downtime crafting richly textured and intricate tunes which navigate the heady canals of dream pop, groove-rock, ambient electronica and beyond. This fresh-out-the-the-oven EP is mostly Jimmy’s baby, but isn’t a solo effort (that’s coming early in the new year, in album form). The ZC EP features the contributions of Ed Stroud (drums) James Bowman (guitar/bass/synth), and Magnus Newman (Guitar/bass). And all up, it’s a moreish brew.
This more or less self-titled effort opens with “Air,” which drifts in through an open window with clean guitar motifs spiralling over one another before propulsive bass and insistent drums pin everything down, meanwhile ushering in some washed-out textural vocals. The groove soon changes gear, and rewires itself into something a little more funky, the sort of upbeat-yet-reflective workout you might expect from Tortoise or Atoms for Peace. Eventually the “funk” factor envelops the more atmospheric leanings suggested by the title: upper-register glassy guitar of the Nile Rodgers persuasion oscillates wildly in stereo, and your inner ear membranes shimmer like disco balls.
“Spacetime” doesn’t deviate too far in terms of palette, but the flow here is a little darker, more businesslike, seemingly more informed by Motorik rhythms and the synthy aural hypnosis of Spiritulized, Trans Am and kin. When the characteristically moody, soft-edged vocals suddenly emerge, a new pattern folds deftly over the underlying beat – polyrhythmically, as if you’re lost in some sort of beautiful cosmic origami. Incidentally, this is the only tune not to feature Jimmy’s hometown collaborators: it’s totally a JC creation via his studies at RMIT, Melbourne.
Third and longest tune “Dennis” opens with some thick and toothy analog synth-paste, before bringing back the clean guitar helix approach of “Air.” Again, distinctly geometric and almost bell-like riffs perambulate and loop into themselves via rhythmic delay. Underneath, a marching-band snare dances with studious, gently driving bass. Simple cathedral vocals take up their modest mantle, and layers of contrapuntal guitar continue to build, until the beat gives way and the fuzzy booming guts fall out – leaving only a soothing whitewater of revolving synth melody to wash over your toes.
“Hyla” is a type of tree frog, and also the closest thing to a conventional pop song the Zealous Chang EP offers. The lyrics are (more or less) discernible, the nodworthy beat is alluringly rudimentary hip-hop fare, and the chords shift – albeit at a leisurely pace – lending the tune a sense of harmonic progression that psychedelic groove music often eschews. Oh, and it’s three-minutes and thirty-three seconds: the ultimate pop song length. But it’s not some kind of concession to convention; indeed, its sound is totally consistent with the rest of the EP. When the chords finally take a decisive move away from the tonal centre about halfway through, it feels like a tension that’s been building up throughout the EP finally releases. Like you’ve been drinking cool Chang beers on a sultry day and – just before the humidity gets too much – the heavens open up and cool crystal beads of rain pelt down. Tonal repetition is great, but more electronic and psych artist could take note of how effective a bold shift can be thereafter. Synths ring out like glorious trumpets and the chords unfurl stirringly. Then – the song reverts to its initial theme and (sadly, too soon) trails off into a sunny void.
Those who buy into the notion that leftfield music demands constant formal reinvention may find themselves wanting: Zealous Chang aren’t trying to spark a stylistic revolution here. Yep, it’s electro-acoustic and working within the “experimental” tradition, but most of the musical ideas within feel more homey than avant-garde, recalling the breezy beauty of local kindred spirits Apricot Rail and perth, and perhaps Erasers in terms of repetitious synth-groove. If you suspect I’m damning the record with faint praise (“it sounds nice”) I urge you to reconsider. Because making a record that sounds this nice – this sunny, smooth, consistent and instinctively alluring – while remaining genuinely interesting, well, that’s no mean feat. All we need now is more.