Album Review: Zammuto – Anchor

Four albums by The Books were never going to be enough. The 2000s duo plotted an uncharted headspace between sound collage and pop with a strange, almost magical knack for found beauty, and while that output won’t soon be matched, guitarist and vocalist Nick Zammuto managed to complement it with a 2012 debut under his own last name.

Funded by an Indiegogo campaign that exceeded its goal by a mile, the follow-up by Zammuto — a four-piece band, not a solo act — is even better. Anchor bears the labored hallmarks of a Books record (the cut-and-splice compositional approach, the mad-eyed attention to sonic detail), but the ingredients are shuffled anew. In place of Books cellist Paul de Jong’s pastoral impulses there is a generous emphasis on vintage, analog synths and drum programming, and instead of a delirious barrage of disembodied voices, there are Zammuto’s vocals — front and center and occasionally even moored to what vaguely resembles song structure.

Though slow to be revealed, the shifting, melodic webs of opener “Good Graces” wouldn’t work without that sort of lyrical, vocal-driven impulse. (Still, Zammuto’s writing stays heady as anything — the song’s climax is a gorgeous, silky falsetto bit that zooms in from nowhere and then, as suddenly, is all that’s left.) The artist’s odd, stuttering interpretation of “Henry Lee” wouldn’t register, either. Eerie and low, the version is as different from the famous Nick Cave/PJ Harvey duet as that rendition is from the traditionals that came before it. There’s some bold flirting with EDM, as on the thrillingly queasy “Electric Ant” and propulsive, beat-driven “IO”. They’re also mixed in with the odd dud (“Stop Counting”) and that familiar obsession with the twisty eccentricities of human language (“Hegemony”, which centers on some tortured pronunciations of the title).

So: Zammuto’s second post-Books release reckons with more direct electronic songcraft, which is like saying a particular record is “more aggressive” than one by Peter, Paul & Mary. The resulting sound pieces are still intricately weird and weirdly intricate, and if Anchor sacrifices some of the hushed intimacy of a Books record (see: Zammuto’s self-consciously rock delivery on “IO” or the raw and lurching snare sound on the great “Sinker”), it retains the promise that anything, and any sound, is momentarily possible within these musical boundaries. As the album art depicts, Zammuto records these pieces at home in a rural Vermont studio that looks like a tractor shack, which is just as well, because the point has always been to draw music out of bits and slivers that seem like anything but.

Essential Tracks: “Good Graces”, “Electric Ant”, and “Sinker”


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