Excerpt from Calladan Happ’s Beachcomber Detroit
[Issue #3, Symbol Press, 2013. Used with Permission.]
I tread carefully down a narrow aisle between, gutted speakers, wooden ladders, insulation, barrels of water, a soldering desk. Another door opens. Inside the studio itself there is a greater sense of order. A full bookshelf lines one wall across from an analog console and banks of compressors; scraps of red fabric form a canopy above the four occupants, who sit facing each other as if in council. I am here for a preview of Lucifer in the Rain, the band’s second LP, while in its final stages of mixing. They made the record themselves.
Above the Air
First reminds me of heavy wind. There’s an orchestral quality to the assembled sounds, but also something nervous in their timbre. “Like an insect call,” I tell them. One of the band mentions the cat who sometimes makes her way into the storage room.
“A difficult birth,” says another. “This song?” I ask. “All of them, to a degree. All births are difficult.” The words “maintain the garden” capture my attention. “A reasonable goal, we think.”
This song clicks and pulses softly. The twining voices are intimate; the tangled instruments, gently abrasive. “Where could I go?” they sing. “I won’t pass the physical.”
I Went Too Shapeless in the Night
The longing of the previous song abruptly gives way to a manic celebration. A spiny keyboard figure circles through the coda like a fly attempting to escape through a closed window. The conversation has warmed slightly, so I ask politely if I may look around. One of the band opens the the set of doors that lead into the live room but remains behind as I walk through.
I see that the band is talking heatedly about something in the next room; I cannot make out the words over the song, which sounds rather like tumbling down stairs. A shimmering keyboard filigree sweeps overhead. The melody is engaging but hard to measure, and I am swept from one section of the song to the next without knowing exactly where they begin and end.
On the Dock with Carlita
The loping beat of the song is a welcome respite from the heart-attack hand-claps that came before. I am not certain—are they laughing in the bridge? I find myself repeatedly unsettled by the shifts in style and mood within songs and between songs.
Open the Wine
The second side of the records begins with slow dancing reflected in an old saloon mirror, or a train leaving the station in reverse, clouds of steam pulled into the chimney.
There follows a widescreen arrangement of leafy arpeggios. The tiles on the ceiling in the live room are stained with rust and rainwater; many are missing, and I assume at first that this is an accident resulting from the building’s age.
Put On the New Suit
“No, most of the missing tiles were removed deliberately. It made the room sound better.” The heartbeat of the bass drum below the woozy guitar and flutes subsides.
Sounds old-fashioned in a way. The drums are guitar buzz and crash, and the voices wind uneasily but urgently to the chorus.
He Lives in the Trees Through a window in a gated and locked door in the dry room I can see a staircase descending from a landing. Aside from the stacks of cardboard boxes along the railings, it has the look of an newspaper office gone to seed.
Movie on August Ray
They are reluctant to discuss where the staircase leads. I suspect that they think I am asking the wrong questions.
They play with pop and jazz elements as components for a steadily cool groove and could very well have hit on the next sound of the century.
The band dazzles with its own inventiveness in the genre, tinged with an graceful blend of nightmarish dread, or some other kind of groovy gothic allure, under jaunty, gurgling synths and drums, invariably kicking a driving rock rhythm — or an anti-disco shuffled march. They fully use that zingy, spacey Roland keyboard under dreamy distorted guitars, indelibly intricate, jazzy rhythms and gauzy croons, sublimely-harmonizing their waking-dream poetics
Zoos of Berlin are a Michigan band whose urbane but skewed style of art-pop has few immediate peers, though Roxy Music, the Sea & Cake, Destroyer, and Berlin-era David Bowie are clearly in their family tree.
“Detroit’s Zoos of Berlin are an intriguingly odd lot, whose music doesn’t really sound like anything else going on right now. The word I keep coming back to is regal. It is soft-focus but obtuse, a little foppish and often fancy. Still pop music made by guitars and keyboards and drums and voices, but these guys are definitely in their own orbit.
It’s a stunning LP full of meandering melodies, mellifluous vocal harmonies and song structures that are just slightly askew.
Detroit four piece ensemble Zoos of Berlin add another LP to their tally with more excellent art rock. Their take on today’s modern pop is one of refreshing melodies and striking attention to detail.
Daniel I. Clark and Trevor Naud’s “American guy imitating a British guy imitating an American guy in a German studio” vocals are cool and controlled on the surface, but simmer with just enough tightly wound emotional energy to keep things interesting. But the real star here is Collin Dupuis’s production, which effortlessly weaves those vocals into a gorgeous blanket of synths, treated guitars, and percussion that thumps and bumps more than you might expect from such introverted music.