Zammuto

Zammuto

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AllMusic Review by

Audio alchemist and one half of the gorgeously fragmentary pop team the Books, Nick Zammuto makes his solo debut with this full-length under his last name. There's a roving chaos to the disc, not completely divorced from the springy shifts of his other band, but definitely a different animal. Album opener "Yay" suggests a logical progression from the lighthearted cutup mentality of the Books with overdriven drums and tremeloed vocals pushing the driving melodies along. Other voices wail out in the background as anthemic keyboards explode out of the choruses. The song is brilliant, capturing something midway between Sung Tongs-era Animal Collective and the Books' high-water-mark album The Lemon of Pink. After such a strong start, however, the album gets lost quickly. Unlike the sample-happy, often instrumental fragmentary pop the Books are known for, vocals take a front seat here, almost every song revolving around heavily processed singing. "Groan Man, Don't Cry" comes off like the worst of Bon Iver's cameos on Kanye tracks with its vocoded vocals seeming out of place riding on top of crystal-clear organ lines. There might be some worthwhile moments of cold funk somewhere in the arrangement, but they're obscured by the overbearing mechanical singing trying to emote over the top. The song threatens to start for six minutes and then fades away. "F U C-3PO" has a similar robotic menace to it. This song and a few others fall into the undesirable final product of modernized prog rock, futuristic synth stabs aggressively competing with acoustic guitars like a Battles tune left in the oven too long. "Zebra Butt" takes the vocoding one step further by replacing processed human vocals with a computerized female voice reciting lyrics in a programmedly sterile way. Even the relatively clean vocals on "Idiom Wind" are so central they kind of become the song, pushing bright string sounds and stereo-panned percussion into the background. The same gift for arrangement that Nick Zammuto put to incredible work on previous productions is still present here, if less overtly. The string bass and found-sound bicycle-bell melodies of "The Shape of Things to Come" dance with spare handclap rhythms. The production makes the song, and it's a rare example of tension building successfully on this record full of awkward statements and misfired studio choices. All of the chaos and bluster of Zammuto ultimately take away from the album as a whole instead of adding to its excitement. The ungrounded spontaneity of the Books has made for excitingly unhinged records, but what comes across on Zammuto isn't so much possibility or even affable clutter as it is weightiness. Under the burden of relentless vocodings and saturated synthetic sounds, the album becomes shiftless and even its myriad subtle details get lost in the relentless rush.

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