‘Juggernaut’ by zZz – Dealing exzZzitement!

For a decade now, zZz has been building excitement in home country Holland, and far beyond. Their third LP is a self-proclaimed ‘Juggernaut’. An apt title, especially if you flip to side two.

Playing just keys and drums, zZz is quite an usual sight: Daan Schinkel pounding away on his organ and synths, and Bjorn Ottenheim keeping a sturdy beat and singing fuzzed-out lines. Recorded on a converted houseboat and launched in 2005, debut album ‘The Sound of zZz’ contained one of my favourite Dutch rock songs … ever: Lucy.

Not in it for a Pulitzer

Let’s cut to the chase: if you’re into deep or poetic lyrics, ‘Juggernaut’ is not for you. But it’s clear zZz is not after a Pulitzer Prize. They deal excitement. They want your heart to bounce out of your chest and your eardrums to keep trembling when the music’s over.

zZz’s style may be wild, but it’s not flat. Which is largely down to Schinkel’s swirling keyboards.

Hawkwind! Punk! Krautrock!

The first thing that hits me on album-opening track Blood, is Ottenheim’s vocal eruption and the immediate reaction of drums and synths. It makes me think of Silver Machine, an unlikely hit for Hawkwind in 1972. Did anyone mention the word juggernaut?

Hawkwind - Silver Machine (1972)

Hawkwind – Silver Machine (1972): an inspiration for zZz?

zZz’s style may be wild, but it’s not flat. Which is largely down to Schinkel’s swirling keyboards. ‘Juggernaut’ rolls on in a variety of moods: punky (My Girl), slow-burning (Dead End), moving (Doze) and voiceless (Red Beat). The latter a pastische of late seventies, drum computer-fed electronic music. It sounds as if the album’s end is near, but the real Juggernaut is yet to come: a sidelong, trance-inducing slice of neokraut.

Surfing the waves of intensity

Considering the shorter songs on ‘Juggernaut’ are not too bizarre, the title track signals a radical change of direction. Luckily, the piece does not stumble forward aimlessly: its teasing intro and subtle waves of intensity are arresting enough to keep you from feeling completely numb.

A bit of a mixed bag, ‘Juggernaut’ is a more than decent record – and a worthy addition to the discography of excellent Dutch rock label Excelsior Records. It’s striking how zZz carves out its own path. In these times of hot air, ‘Juggernaut’ is refreshingly welcome.

Stand-out track:

This review is based on a piece I wrote for daMusic.be in Dutch.

Organ and Electric Piano

So Much Body: 16 Hours of Organ and Electric Piano

“You got an organ goin’ there, no wonder the sound has so much body”, says an authoritative voice at the beginning of DJ Shadow’s Organ Donor. And it’s true. Organs have been colouring and beefing up music for over fifty years. And so have electric pianos. They deserve a playlist of their own. Now they got one!

Miles’ fault

This list is all about Wurlitzers and Fender Rhodes pianos, Hammond B3 organs and their inseparable rotating Leslie speakers. I guess we should thank the jazz guys for making these instruments cool as a cucumber.

People like Jimmy Smith and Larry Young behind their Hammonds. And Miles Davis, who forced Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock to play electrically on milestone albums like ‘In a Silent Way’ (1969) and ‘Bitches Brew’ (1970).

Miles Davis 'In A Silent Way'
“You want me to play that toy?”
was Hancock’s immediate reaction. After that, it seems as if his and Corea’s hands were glued to their Fenders, resulting in masterpieces of their own: the Brazilion fusion of ‘Light as a Feather’ (1972) and the pioneering funkjazz of ‘Headhunters’ (1973).

spotify:user:116741169:playlist:4YcNp6EYubgZEK4hDIAjnl

Common pieces of machinery

Sprinkling sparse notes, weaving gentle tapestries or cementing mighty improvisations, organs and electric pianos have become common pieces of studio machinery. Just to cite a few:

  • hitmakers 10cc (I’m Not In Love), Queen (You’re My Best Friend), Sam Brown (Stop), Tears For Fears (Sowing The Seeds Of Love), Squeeze (Tempted)
  • yacht rock captains Bobby Caldwell (What You Won’t Do For Love), Player (Baby Come Back), Michael McDonald (Keep Forgettin)
  • jazz crusaders Miles Davis (Shhh / Peaceful), Squarepusher (Male Pill Part 13), The Cannonball Adderley Quintet (Mercy, Mercy, Mercy), Brad Mehldau (Luxe), Marc Cary Focus (Spectrum)

Toro Y Moi 'Underneath The Pine'

  • prog rock giants Van Der Graaf Generator (Nutter Alert), Wigwam (Losing Hold), Focus (Round Goes the Gossip), The Alan Parsons Project (I Robot)
  • funk and disco kings and queens George Duke (Brazilian Love Affair), Young-Holt Unlimited (Where Is the Love?), The Firebolts (Everybody Dance)
  • indie rock outfits Grizzly Bear (Two Weeks), Comets On Fire (Sour Smoke), Girls (Jamie Marie), Toro Y Moi (Still Sound), Radiohead (Subterranean Homesick Alien)
  • sound architects Brian Eno (Julie With)

And now have a listen: brace yourself for a reverberating 16 hours, and do send me your favourites!