(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
I’m not sure what to make of this CD and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. This Chicago-based four piece has obviously been honing their craft for some time now and their CD Lumineferous Ether is quite a remarkable debut. While the band’s style has quite a few elements of mainstream rock, there are more than enough adventurous elements to not call it anything but progressive.
Each of Zip Tang’s members has his own unique musical personality and that is probably what makes the music stand out so much. Marcus Padgett plays sax and keyboards, Perry Merritt is the guitarist and Rick Wolfe handles the bass. Marcus does most of the lead vocals but Perry and Merritt also contribute lead on a few tracks. Rounding out the group on drums and percussion is Fred Faller.
Things start out on a heavy note with “Tower of Tuna” and right off Marcus’ vocals have a gruff style that reminds me of something like James Hetfield from Metallica. This is definitely not metal, though. This is more of a heavy rock type of thing. The sax gives it a somewhat more sophisticated edge but this is still a rocking good time. The lyrics are bit silly but presented in an original manner describing the menu of a fancy restaurant. The piece ends with a flurry of drumming from Faller.
The second track sees the band going in a funkier direction and might be compared to something by a band like Red Hot Chili Peppers. There’s some great guitar work here with lots of wah-wah and the sax has a nice vintage feel.
Things cool down a bit on the intro to “Nothing Here” with an atmospheric acoustic guitar/keyboard strings interlude. When the song kicks in, there’s a jazz rock feel that reminds me of what Soft Machine might have been like had they gone in a more rock direction. I guess it might go without saying that there’s a lot of great sax on this track.
On “Doctor Plush” the band explores a more psychedelic direction. This one makes me think of Spock’s Beard for some reason, especially the V album. This one is 10 minutes long and has the music stretching out with some trippy sections. The guitar section towards the end is exceptional. There is some accordion music and sound effects at the end that don’t make a whole lot of sense but at that point it really doesn’t matter. This is definitely one of the standout tracks on the disc.
“Like We Did Before” is a ballad with a mellow Pink Floyd atmosphere. For some reason, I imagine that this one was included to showcase the band’s versatility. It does a good job. This one has a prominent bass line and some more really strong guitar. Merritt will probably not get recognized one of the world’s greatest guitarists but his contributions on almost every track really make the music stand out.
The piece called “Beta” is a funky instrumental with more of that inspiring saxophone work. I think this is a baritone but I’m not positive. It does have a deeper sound. There are also some nice spacey keyboards on this one towards the end. Another vehicle for the group to show off their flexibility, by now I was very impressed the first time I listened to the disc.
There’s something about Zip Tang that reminds me of the New England-based trio of Dreadnaught. It’s likely that they have never heard of them but there is a similarity in approach on much of this album. The next two songs “Searching for Treasure” and “With A Twist” are perfect examples. On “Searching” Perry uses a clean tone with a slight vibrato for a very effective solo. “Twist” is sort of a barn-burner with…um…a twist. Again more amazing guitar work, I really hate to keep saying that because it might give the impression that this is some kind of guitar hero album or something. That’s just not the case, all of the solos are quite tasteful and never get forced in your face.
The album concludes with an impressive reading of ELP’s “Tarkus” suite. Yep, you read that right. After all this great stuff, you get “Tarkus”! The band take a few liberties with the arrangement and get some great results. The most noticeable changes would be that many of the keyboard parts are replaced by sax and there’s much more guitar. While many seasoned proggers might find the approach here to be defacing a classic, let’s not even think of the purists. This is a wonderful rendition and executed flawlessly. It’s so refreshing to see a band tackle an epic like this and pull it off so well.
This one probably doesn’t have enough of those traditional progressive rock moves to be put on the same shelf as the majority of the modern prog stuff that’s out there but don’t let that deter you from checking it out. Zip Tang definitely takes chances with their music and this is something that is unlike anything out there. With so many bands out there not breaking any new ground at all, it’s good to know there are still artists who blaze their own trail in the music world.