ZZZZ obviously wanted their new CD, Palm Reader to be filed at the very end of your CD collection. Not only did they make every letter in their name the very last letter of the alphabet, but they took into account that there’s actually a band called zZz, and one-upped their valiant, but failing, attempt to do the same. What kind of band would go to such lengths, you ask? A very strange one; I can guarantee that. And when you take into account that hardcore-freak-math band Sweep the Leg Johnny frontman Steve Sostak now fronts ZZZZ, it becomes even more obvious of the outlandishness that this band is capable of. And to put it simply, they’re even weirder than that.
ZZZZ mixes jazz, punk, klezmer and Tom Waits in a way that defies any logical explanation. The mere fact that Sostak has found yet another outlet to hone his saxophone freakouts only boggles the mind further. But somehow, ZZZZ manages to pull it all together, crafting spooky, oddball songs that evade genre as well as conventionality. Opener “Assassination Polka” is a jolt to the system, as the band combines one part Firewater to one part Madness’ “One Step Beyond.” Oh, and a little polka, I suppose. Saxophone squeals over pounding Rhodes chords in a dizzying melody that’s not exactly catchy, but certainly hard to forget.
Likewise, “2nd hand Smoke” is part Mars Volta and part sea chantey. Where these cats draw the line, I’ll never know. It’s far from a kitchen sink approach, but using only the elements they have within their limited bag of tricks, ZZZZ pull off a deft bit of melodic prestidigitation. And when you think the madness is about to let up, it only does so for a short time, soft interludes bleeding into epileptic mathematical breakdowns and screeching, chaotic verses. “Ultratumba,” in comparison to the first half of the album, is somewhat more accessible, keeping in 4/4 time during the majority of the song, though not necessarily all of it. And “Buncerto” is the best song of the bunch, opening with a steady dirge of descending saxophone riffs and eerie organ. However, “Railroaded,” the song that precedes it, is a close runner-up, playing up the reverb and playing down the erratic tempo shifts.
ZZZZ isn’t everyone’s type of band. Let’s make that clear. But they’ve secured their spot at the end of the alphabet. And they won over this reviewer after a few listens. Be warned, Palm Reader is an exhausting listen. Play at your own risk.
Sweep the Leg Johnny – Sto Cazzo!
The Paper Chase – God Bless Your Black Heart
Firewater – The Man on the Burning Tightrope
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.