Zoogma – Recreational Vehicles

The live performance is currently in a state of flux. Finding it cheaper and much more convenient than toting around cumbersome guitars, cables, effects pedals and all kinds of toms, more and more up-and-coming artists are resorting to computer assemblage of their music, enabling the live show to be as simple as a laptop and a mix table propped up on a keyboard stand.

From a spectator’s perspective, it can get rather boring watching an hour-long setlist doled out from a machine while the artist exerts little more effort than fiddling around with mixers and nodding in beat. Of course, some of today’s more affluent artists, such as the Black Eyed Peas or Lady Gaga, deem it profitable to turn their performances into a personal Cirque Du Soleil. It seems that an artist receives convenience nowadays by trading entertainment value, or even dignity.

Then you have groups like Pendulum or Passion Pit who have found a reasonable middle ground between dull computer convenience and exhilarating instrumental performance. Zoogma is another such band that totes guitars alongside their notebooks. With a sound resembling Orbital, Ratatat, and Spyro Gyra, this Oxford five-piece’s vivacious live shows are nothing to scoff at and their expansive tour schedule is a testament to this fact.

Unfortunately, their debut record Recreational Vehicles fails to overcome a fatal flaw that is all too typical of contemporary all-instrumental acts like Ratatat (and more recently Pelican). A substantial portion of the record suffers from an absence of subject that practically demands vocals, that is unless you’re planning for inclusion in a video game soundtrack. The R&B-like “Primary Colors” and especially follower “Incredible Machine” require at least half of the song to develop any compelling melody. On top of that, follower “Mr. Limbic” mockingly addresses this absence of vocals with a sample of a robotic voice that exhorts the listener to play a childish game of “clap to the happy music.” Partaking in this game during a live show would surely feel self-demeaning and, frankly, it inadvertently comes off as a statement about the tonal unoriginality of many electronic musicians.

Assuming you have the patience to make it past the halfway point (“Mr. Limbic”), the second half of the record will prove largely rewarding, beginning with the outstanding guitar epic “Okami.” This very well-written solo track is hearty proof that engaging songs can be written without the assistance of vocals or lyrics. The remainder of the record consists of some satisfying jazz-style dub and dance similar to the record’s decent opener “Syllepsis.” Though never being too audacious, it manages to be entertaining and dynamic enough to warrant the band’s reputation as a live act that is not to be missed.

Zoogma make no effort to be more than contemporary, nor do they make any effort to transcend the sum of their parts on record. However, they are one of a handful of electronic live acts that make the auspicious choice to present their music through the sweat-and-blood of real-time performance. While it’s not particularly impressive, Recreational Vehicles is available for download at any price (including FREE) on the band’s website, http://zoogma.net, so what’s to lose?




by Mason “Did I mention I love free stuff?” McGough


1 Comment

  1. New Review! Zoogma – Recreational Vehicles « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Zoogma – Recreational Vehicles, by Mason McGough […]

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