For the past year and a half, I've been giving a lot of love to Zykos' debut album, Comedy Horn. Sure, I've been playing it loud in my car--it's an album that's GREAT for driving, especially with the combination of Catherine Davis' unrestrained piano and Mike Booher's unrestrained snotty yet sensitive singing style. Hell, track two, "Understanding Fire," is utterly perfect for speeding down city streets at night with that girl or guy you like or when you're by yourself and you're feeling particularly angst-ridden. Not since ZZ Top or the Toadies have I been so inspired to put my life at risk so consistantly by a Texas band, but damn it, I can't help it.
Of course, I will admit that Comedy Horn was not without its weaknesses--the main one being that the sound seemed kind of blurry and the vocals didn't sparkle and shine, but considering this was a very young band on a no-budget budget, forgiveness and acceptance came quickly. I loved the record, though--and in fact it left me wanting to give lead singer Mike Booher a hug--and it still gets constant airplay on my stereo. Still, the second album would be a make-or-break proposition for this young band; a sloppy, muddy sound would not--nay, could not--be easily forgiven, especially considering how much the band has grown. With these things in mind, I prepared myself for Zykos, the band's highly-anticipated (by me, at least) new album.
I shouldn't have worried.
I was instantly floored.
Zykos has matured into a really wonderful band and this growth resulted in one of the best albums--if not the best album--to be released by an Austin band. In the past year and a half, it's quite obvious that they've learned the value of restraint. Lead singer Michael Booher's vocals are softer, yet retain all the power of a young man who is full of emotion, and Catherine Davis' piano, while not nearly as prominent or dominant, flutters and coats the songs with a mature sound that 'indie-rock' has needed--though I wouldn't really consider this 'indie-rock'---in my mind, Zykos is straight-up pop; after all, why regulate them to the mediocrity of modern indie rock, especially when they've upped the ante?
To clarify, they're not totally out of the indie-rock game, either. On your first listen, you'll notice the first four songs sound like a maturation of the elements that made Comedy Horn so great--sharp rock meets smart words meets great sounding music. (To tell the truth, it took me a little time to listen to the album beyond the second track, "Above the Map"--it's so good, I kept hitting repeat!) When you hit track five---expect a MAJOR change that radiates through the rest of the record. A time warp, if you will. Personally, I thank God someone's decided to make a record that's more Joe Jackson than Death Cab For Cutie.I'm not speaking hyperbole here, though--just listen to "George Eliot" and tell me they weren't listening to Look Sharp! or Night & Day. Sure, there were hints of a new wave heart on Comedy Horn, but Zykos definitely defines them as inspired by that era. Just listen to any one of these songs, and you'll hear a bass line that's pure Peter Hook, piano that is definitely Joe Jackson and an attitude that is clearly their own.
There are twelve highlights on this twelve-song album and to list them all would not be interesting reading. I will give you a few hints, though. I love "George Eliot," not just because it reminds me of vintage Joe Jackson, but because it's a wonderfully melodic pop song that reminds me of 1984, of college, and that girl I crushed out on four girls ago. "Disappearing Act" has a nice shuffle and beat that reminds me of Spoon, only better. I love Catherine's piano twinkles on "Dark Tan"--they highlight Booher's sad-eyed singing. Then there's the rerecored version of "Understanding Fire." It's completely different, and at first I didn't like it. Upon repeated listens, it grew on me; Comedy Horn's version is overwhelmed with an awesome, unrestrained piano line. With this new version, they've removed all traces of that piano and have replaced it with a bass-and-guitar lick that's wild, frentic and obviously stolen from Peter Hook's locker.
I realize I'm rambling, but I don't care--Zykos is a great record and there's no way I could be anything but rambling about this album. It's clearly the best album to come out of Austin, Texas this year--and I'll be honest, it's got a permanant place on my top ten list this year. Zykos is the best band you've never heard. Yet. This album's going to be a big one, folks--I guarantee you that--and Zykos deserve every ounce of the ensuing hype. They're great musicians, they're great people and they make great music. Such a combination means that Zykos couldn't be anything less than great, now could it?
And I still owe that Booher SOB a hug.
Artist Website: http://www.zykosmusic.com
Label Website: http://www.postparlo.com