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Zs - Grain (Northern Spy)

Zs Grain Northern Spy
17 June 2013

Zs’ aggressive approach to jazz has consistently made for fascinating listening, from the post-punk/no wave/noise rock vibe of their earliest recordings, to their Borbetomagus-fueled Metal Machine Music-like New Slaves era, to now, where it all culminates into something beyond jazz or punk or electronic music or even industrial noise while being all things at once, as in some bizarre string theory continuum.

Grain is comprised of two 20+ minute tracks that ebb and flow like a Throbbing Gristle outtake. “Grain Part One” is solid concrete, though not only crushing, pummeling, but also grinding, spinning in a circular motion, the rough-edged grain wearing down everything below it. Low-end squelch begets Nubian rhythms, saxophone wafts in and out, electronics loop in a tribal cyborg ceremony punctuated by the frenzied snake-like guitar. Instruments weave between static and squeaks, rhythm appears and glides away, power electronics surge and recede until it finally drones on the note of a dying dial tone, the phone call never made.

“Grain Part Two” brings the electronics to the forefront, beginning with staccato tones, syncopated harmonics, rhythmic ambiance that shift into hard electronic beats somewhere between an 8-bit video game on overdrive and a broken sequencer. Harmonic tones dance in a lightning chamber, fast forward, rewind, blips and beeps, melodic drone segues into electronic grinding.

It’s quite a journey from beginning to end, one that constantly changes, while listening and with each listen, as new details appear with each subsequent play. Is it the best jazz album or noise album of the year? Both. And more.