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Music Review: Zs – New Slaves

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I’ve been listening to the avant-garde sounds of Zs and their New Slaves record for a few days straight now and I can’t get this monster to settle.

The Brooklyn band chomps through eight expansive, threatening tracks of noise and gutsy free jazz with limitless resolve. Each piece proves more challenging than the next, whether through repetitive textures or clattering percussion or who knows what. The band’s inventiveness is without reproach and all the forward-thinking musicality is spiritually satisfying.

Zs are Sam Hillmer (tenor saxophone and pedals), Ian Antonio (percussion and electronics), and Ben Greenberg (electric guitar and electronics). The trio is joined by Amnon Friedlin on guitar for the record. New Slaves was recorded at Greenberg’s Brooklyn studio.

The comparisons to Boredoms, Black Dice, Aphex Twin, and Bloody Sandwiches (I made one of those up) are bound to happen, as the band’s voracious longing for locating and overtaking the boundaries of level-headed noise is ever-present. Hell, Howard Stern dubbed Zs’ Arms “mood music if you’re in a mental home.”

It’s actually hard to argue with Stern’s assessment of the band, truth be told, but I’ve always had a weird fascination with the types of shit they might play in a mental home so I found myself more than game for Zs’ brand of damage.

New Slaves, the band’s first full-length for The Social Registry, is fascinating.

Each band member is charged with composition duties at some point, so the album really does feel like a group effort. With meditative passages meshed together with overcast racket, the record actually has a noticeable design distinguishable from other similar noise record. At times, things simmer down to the point that New Slaves is nearly calming. At other times, it’s like dumping a can of nails into a blender.

The album begins with a fog of circular harmonies. “Concert Black” is bound with cascading sounds, generating a soothing, hypnotic effect that sets the right pace for New Slaves.

Elsewhere, like on the 20-minute title track, Zs test the water with tiptoes of sharp, jarring effects and punishing sax. Hillmer plays the living shit out of his tenor, too, delivering grating, almost unbearable rounds of discordant clamour before proving most disconcerting with a beautiful gush of astonishing melody.

The brand of noise and avant-garde stuff found on New Slaves isn’t for everyone, of course, and many people will be put off by what’s going on here. As for me, I found myself appreciating the rules Zs manage to break with each and every sharp note and sound. The album is shattering but invigorating, proving a truly gratifying test of listener stamina.

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