I first came across these guys at the time of the release of their second album, ‘Pank’, some dozen years or so ago. As is the case with many bands we lost touch for one reason or another, until Perry Merritt (vocals, guitars, synthesizers) tracked me down a few years back, and since then I have reviewed the rest of their catalogue. Now they are back with their sixth album, and the most important thing to note even before playing is that Rick Wolfe is no longer involved, and his place on bass and backing vocals has been taken by “new boy” Andrew Bunk. Drummer Fred Faller is still there, and the trio have been joined by saxophonist Marcus Padgett who actually left the band a while back but has returned to assist on the album alongside additional keyboard player Matt Gunsaulus who plays on a few songs.
It may have been five years since their last album, and they misplaced a founder member during that period as well, but the band have come back even stronger than they were previously. This time they have also delivered a concept album, where they tell the story of Marie, an orphan who is abused by her adoptive father, which in turn leads to Marie living on the streets and all that entails. Some elements of the story can also be found in the cover art, the result being an album which in many ways is quite dark, certainly from a lyrical perspective. This is not the first progressive concept album to touch on dark subject matters, and my mind is immediately drawn to the likes of Salem Hill’s ‘The Robbery of Murder’ and Tr3nity’s ‘The Cold Light of Darkness’, with the former dealing with a child’s loss of their father by a drunk driver and the plan to seek revenge, while the latter also deals with the subject of child abuse. In each case, the band understood that to deal with a subject matter of that gravity they also had to really stand out musically and that is very much the case also with Zip Tang.
At times, the music is gentle, when they are dealing with something quite emotional, with lulling picked guitars and the sound of traffic while at others it is incredibly jagged and abrupt. The saxophone is used sparingly, which means when it comes in it always has an immediate impact, but right from the beginning one is enthralled as Fred and Perry hit it off as if they have never been away and Andrew seems as if he always been by their side with some wonderfully complex bass runs. The bass is often also kept quite high in the mix, providing a real aural balance to the guitars and vocals, while keyboards are often used just to fill in sound as opposed to take leading roles. The music takes us on a journey, the lyrics telling the story on the way, in a perfect combination which involves the listener throughout. I was sent this as a single track, with no breaks, so each time I listened to it I had to play it all the way through, and that is the only way to get the full majesty of this. It needs to be played from start to end, preferably on headphones, and become involved and engaged with the story. It is majestic, stark, rocky, fresh, complex, multi-layered yet full of space, with the result being their best release yet. Please let’s not wait for another five years for the one guys!!