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Boom Bip - Zig Zaj

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Artist: Boom Bip

Album: Zig Zaj

Label: Lex

Review date: Oct. 18, 2011

Boom Bip has long been labeled “instrumental hip hop,” but that tag appears to have outlasted its expiration date on Zig Zaj. Earlier records, like the hugely enjoyable Seed to the Sun, did indeed plow an oddball, esoteric furrow, where syncopated beats collided with lush electronic textures, as if Bryan Hollon had honed in on the core melodies, insistent hooks and hypnotic effects of the best hip hop and stripped away the macho swagger along with most of the lyrics. Imagine Kraftwerk remixed by Grandmaster Flash, or perhaps the other way around, and you kind of close in on what Seed to the Sun sounded like. It’s something of a stunner, leaping from loping techno rhythms to chopped-and-screwed-esque collages to dub-like dirges.

But it’s been 10 years since Boom Bip’s high-water mark. On Zig Zaj, Hollon has changed tack, resulting is an awkward mix of electro-pop and rock, with looped melodies melded to hard-boiled drum rhythms and electric guitars on most tracks, and with a slew of guest vocalists. When it comes to electronic music, Hollon appears to know his shit. The best moment comes near the end with the nine-minute “Tumtum,” which dispenses with the faux-rock distractions of the preceding 40-odd minutes to explore the hinterlands of detached house and ethereal ambience. It’s not on a par with the best experiments in minimal synth or ambient drone, but when heard in comparison to the rest of Zig Zaj, it might as well be.

At their mid-1980s height, New Order distilled the perfect mixture of rock edge and hook-laden synthetic pop, and at times Hollon taps into the same explosive vein, especially, and perhaps unsurprisingly, on the driving “New Order.” But “Goodbye Lovers and Friends,” which has single written all over it, sets the album’s actual tone, and it’s not for the better. “Goodbye Lovers and Friends” features Franz Ferdinand vocalist Alex Kapranos, but rather than use the man’s distinctive croon in new and unexpected ways, Boom Bip merely creates something that might as well be an FF outtake, all insistent guitars and loping drums. Not bad, just very bland.

Most of Zig Zaj follows a similar uneasy line between paying homage to various kinds of indie rock (a Bernard Sumner-esque lick here, a baggy sweep of the synths here), whilst seemingly at random throwing in electronic staples such as the stripped down, drum machine-driven synth-pop of “Do As I Do” (like an even more translucent Kate Bush, with a half-hearted attempt at post-industrial Nico) or the “Kraftwerk-lite” instrumental “Reveal.” “Manabozh” chugs along like a pale imitation of Battles’ “Atlas” with shades of The Prodigy gauchely chucked on top in the form of saturated synths and overdriven electronic percussion; whilst “Automation” sounds like New Order at their early-noughties, Get Ready-era worst.

Zig Zaj is a profoundly frustrating album, seemingly caught between a desire to appeal to the indie rock crowd and Hollon’s technical restrictions of being a solo electro producer. The better moments, such as “Tumtum,” are when he leaves the swagger behind to focus on texture and atmosphere. But they are few and far between, and never properly explored on an emotional level. The end result lumps the worst banalities of “indie” music into electronic sounds that, if properly fleshed out, might have been interesting.

By Joseph Burnett

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