Music

Down With Sheet Music

Brooklyn's Zs Bring Prog to the Punk Scene

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"THERE USED TO BE this 'us against the world' vibe because we were really worried that people wouldn't be down with us because we play from sheet music and we were out there on the punk scene, which doesn't really embrace that," explains Zs co-founder and saxophonist Sam Hillmer. Along with guitarist Matt Hough, Zs originally started in Brooklyn as a pick-up improv group. By 2002, a sextet had evolved into a two drummers, two guitarists, and two sax players. With the lineup solid, Zs' complex compositions were released to the world on Troubleman Unlimited.

The current touring quartet (it's now one sax, one guitar, drums, and keyboard) create a perfectly synchronized monologue. Sax bleats punctuate crashing cymbals. Guitar chords meld with rhythmic vocal chants. Imagine the broken and constantly fluctuating rhythm of an old typewriter, with each keystroke sounding the harmonies and anti-melodies of an entire band. Every pause between notes is honored by the whole group sans the slop and feedback found in rock music.

Though the band is quick to distance itself from the prog renaissance, certainly fans of the classic madness of Magma and Ruins, as well as more current frontiersmen such as Orthrelm and ABCS, will find a pleasant challenge in decoding Zs oblique formulae. There's never the brutal attack of Lightning Bolt; instead tempered patterns shift and coalesce with a strange familiarity without ever quite repeating themselves.

Musicians of this caliber and sounds this dissonant are thankfully no longer relegated to lofts and art galleries. DIY venues and houses around the country are embracing the resulting mind-expansion. Opposing the sterility of their recordings, in concert "there is a lot of tension in our music and it manifests in the audience and comes back to us on stage, kind of like a feedback loop" says Hillmer. He then elaborates, "We want to keep taking things further and further physically, mentally, aesthetically, spiritually whatever. We want an intense experience. The impetus is and always has been to make the best music we possibly can with the people who are most down to make it happen."

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