There’s a peculiar, restrained heaviness to “Breathe in the Disease,” the opening track to The Zincs’ new album, Dimmer. It’s simple and solid, as two chords are strummed sparely over a hefty drum beat and some trippy washes of mellotron. The arrangement may recall chamber pop gurus like Richard Davies or Neil Hannon, but the overall sound is oddly reminiscent of Led Zeppelin. To put it plainly, it could very well be the orch-pop “Kashmir.”
It’s an entertaining though to imagine sensitive English singer-songwriters uleashing their mighty Gods of Thunder, but part of me thinks that The Zincs’ Jim Elkington has an innate desire to rock out. He may play the part of the cool, sophisticated songwriter, wrapping his songs in gently orchestral arrangements and soothing melodies. But when you hear “Breathe in The Disease,” it’s apparent that dude wants to get wild. However, like a true gentleman, he only does so subtly and sparingly.
The vast majority of Dimmer, the newest by the Chicago-based UK ex-pat, is jingly and jangly, calling to mind subdued but quirky singer-songwriters like Andrew Bird. “Beautiful Lawyers,” for example, is an enjoyable bit of pretty pop, not unlike one of Ivy’s better tracks. “Bad Shepherds” is a violin-heavy waltz. And the two-minute “A Colt’s Tooth” is reminiscent of the Southwestern folk-rock of Calexico. There aren’t any mariachi influences here, but Elkington’s fingerpicked guitar and brushed drum beats could have been pulled right from any of Burns and Convertino’s albums.
“Moment is Now!” is the next of Elkington’s more rock-leaning moments. The songs driving melody and catchy chorus, with a little more distortion and a lot more volume, could be a huge power pop single. But as I said before, The Zincs rock in a quiet way. They’re like Tindersticks’ rowdy younger brother, eschewing pianos for electric guitars, but still adding strings in all the right places. But it should be said that Elkington’s best moments aren’t necessarily these subliminally rock-influenced tunes. “New Thought,” for instance, is a bright and enjoyable melody with bouncy fingerpicking and Elkington’s soothing baritone vocals. And “Sunday Night” is more Calexico-like noir folk, only hinted at in the previously mentioned “A Colt’s Tooth.” This track, however, is heightened by its moody ambient background sounds and booming bass drum. It’s eerie and beautiful all at the same time.
Jim Elkington may not pray at the altar of Robert Plant, but he’s got a little rock `n’ roll deep within his bones. It may only come out in spurts, slowly and slyly, but the guy can put together a powerful song without pummeling you. Dimmer is a gorgeous album, on the whole, and whether or not Zincs are playing it heavy or soft, it’s a great listen from beginning to end.
Calexico – Feast of Wire
Tindersticks – Can Our Love…
Andrew Bird – And the Mysterious Production of Eggs
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.