Hailing from British Colombia, Zoo Riots is a band that combine aspects of R&B, blues and psychedelia to achieve their unique indie rock sound. To be honest, when I first sat down and listened to Zoo Riot’s newest EP Arbutus Skin Lady I thought it was Alt-J; and I mean that in a very positive way. The oftentimes smooth, mellow vocals combined with two-part harmonies and lofty falsetto strikes a similar chord to that of This Is All Yours.
The members of Zoo Riots are long-time friends, so it seems fitting that they recorded Arbutus Skin Lady in the house that sheltered them all at a point in time. Throughout the EP, it is easy to hear the passion that these individuals have for both music and each other.
Arbutus Skin Lady is mainly built on dynamics and it predominantly relies on heavy layering of guitars and vocal arrangements to achieve its desired sound. Most of the tunes, such as “If No One Sees It” and “Vultures” begin delicately, yet build to heavy climaxes that are emotionally rich. Oftentimes the problem with music that constantly builds is that the production cannot keep up, leaving the climaxes rather ineffective and bland, however this is not the case with Arbutus Skin Lady. The production is just as solid as the songwriting, making it possible for Zoo Riots to pull off the large and intricate sound that they sought to achieve.
The EP starts out with a very tasteful short song titled “If No One Sees It” that begins with a nice picking pattern coated with some blackface tremolo. Even though this song was quite curt, and the lyrics were sparse, I found that it contained a lot of elements of music that I liked— building guitars, groovy bass and a catchy vocal hook. I found the overflowing transition into “Diamond Shades” to be an odd choice, as the riff that connected the two songs stops abruptly, leading into something completely different that seems to allow the song to take its true form.
My favorite song of the EP is the closing track “Vultures” which functions extremely well as a closer. It is dark, climactic and a bit mysterious. I found the tightness of the instrumentation (as well as the harmonies) to be pretty impressive, making it even more clear to me that this band has been playing together for over three years. Their familiarity and comfortability playing with each other is pervasive throughout the music, and “Vultures” is a wonderful example of the amazing synchronization between the members. Music such as this is not written within a few days, and Zoo Riots is a great example of a band that took its time in its creative process and it definitely paid off.
Overall, I found Arbutus Skin Lady to be a very nice work of art. My only complaint about the music is that I would occasionally find myself a bit distracted by all of the culminating parts. It is typical for a band to want to pack everything into their first release, as they want to demonstrate to their audience how much they can do. With Zoo Riots, it is evident that they can do many, many things, and it is certainly better to have to tame one’s natural abilities as opposed to struggling with limitations.
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