A funny thing happened when I first clicked “play” on “Yay,” the first track on Zammuto’s self-titled first album for Temporary Residence. My computer, crunching through some unresolved chunk of memory from a closing application, briefly halted the flow of music, resulting in a kind of sputtering, stuttering glitch rhythm. This, of course, seemed entirely wrong at first. Yet, soon enough, that glitchy hiccup, when sped back up to normal speed, maintained a seamless flow into its skipping, processed electro jam. And thus, the choppy approach of the onetime Books member replicated itself accidentally, yet serendipitously, an introduction to an album that couldn’t have happened in a more appropriate manner.
Having recently dissolved The Books following the release of 2010’s The Way Out, Nick Zammuto has kept much of his former group’s organic-meets-electronic, sample-based highbrow pop art alive through his eponymous new band. And it’s a very real band at that – Zammuto is joined by his brother Mikey on bass, drummer Sean Dixon, and Gene Back, a “multi-instrumentalist,” which could very well mean his role is like that of Zammuto, himself. However, in his new role here, Nick Zammuto sticks primarily to guitar and vocals, his voice often processed and encoded in robotic effects, as on the Battles-like “Groan Man, Don’t Cry.”
The full-band approach to Zammuto gives it a more immediately infectious, even danceable sound than that of much of his prior work. It’s very much a pop album, in Zammuto’s own mischievous, intellectually goofy way. The group eases into a darkly subtle groove on “Idiom Wind,” briefly casting aside the vocal effects in favor of a more direct, laid-back sound. However, as indicated by its tongue-in-cheek title, “F U C-3PO” brings that robotic (phantom) menace back in a big way, as Zammuto’s vocodered vocals phase in and out of an ominous sci-fi arrangement thick in synthesizers and thumb piano. Yet for as much fun as the quartet seems to have while diving into synth- and effects-driven mania, there’s something to be said for their gentler paced arrangements, the most stunning of which is undoubtedly “The Shape of Things to Come,” which is simply gorgeous in its sparse, slowly building orchestral arrangement.
Zammuto spends equal time in both complex, nuanced human mode and in haywire, hyperactive robot mode. Yet the distance between the two isn’t as great as it might sound on paper. These four musicians’ greatest strength, and one that Nick Zammuto himself has spent a solid decade perfecting, is making the synthetic seem organic, and vice-versa. It may be a step closer to living among Replicants, but Zammuto should be applauded for tapping into a formula to overcome the uncanny valley.
Stream: Zammuto – “F U C-3PO”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.