Required content for all contemporary remix album reviews:
- Mention how all remix albums suck.
- Mention how HEALTH remix albums do not suck.
- Place album under review somewhere between suck and HEALTH.
With the release of their latest full-length, New Slaves II: Essence Implosion!, comprising seven remixes of content off of last year’s New Slaves, Zs wander into the dangerous territory of the dreaded “remix album.” As if taking cues from HEALTH’s ::Disco2, Zs open the collection with their own new composition before handing off the reins to their remixers, drawing a connection between the two groups that, thankfully, carries over to the rest of album. Like the previous HEALTH collections, Zs buck the remix album trend of easy mediocrity, expanding the sound and scope of New Slaves rather than simply rehashing it. The collection is not without its flaws, but in the end makes for a welcome companion to the album that justifiably ranked as our “Favorite Album of 2010.”
As though recognizing the limitations inherent in the current state of the remix album format, New Slaves II makes a move out of such categorizations and quick assessments. Appreciating this move does require a bit of context not provided by the album itself; though the album is certainly a collection of remixes, largely by artists who have not previously performed with Zs, this is not the endpoint of this collaboration. These are not remixes finished, handed-off, and moved on from, but rather the beginning of one of four new formulations of the Zs live band, with some of the remixers and their material being integrated into the performing group currently taking “Zs” without any appellation as their moniker (see http://www.zzzsss.com/incarnations.html for a full list). This is brought back into New Slaves II through the “official” new Zs composition that opens the album, “MMW IV: Essence Implosion!”, in which Zs take the compositions assembled on New Slaves II as the raw material around which they build the track. The new release, then, is not just a remix album, but also a device that allows the group to extend their scope and reach in live contexts and — hopefully — future recorded projects. The remix album blown up into a tool for redefining multiple aspects of a group’s sound: this is just the sort of move to be hoped for from a band whose adventurous sonics and recording/compositional techniques won the many hearts of our little online magazine last year.
How does it sound?
Appropriately, given the context we can spend so much time placing it into, it sounds like many things. Weasel Walter crafts what sounds like Zs attempting to play a Flying Luttenbachers song to charming effect; Cex earns the “versus” tag cited in the title of his “Acres [Cex V. Zs]” by building what amounts to a dance track struggling to find its way out of a pit of noise and failing repeatedly; and “AcresRMX [Gabe Andruzzi Remix]” does the opposite, tucking pockets of New Slaves’ abrasive textures and clattering percussion into an effective near-rave-up. It’s an eclectic collection of recontextualizations, offering a variety of alternate perspectives into the group’s sound, testing the effectiveness of their output in new areas.
Of course, this variety of perspectives and contributors means that New Slaves II doesn’t avoid that perennial pitfall of unevenness this sort of album so typically falls into. Given the wide-ranging approaches Zs integrated — or, otherwise, aggressively and purposefully refrained from integrating — on New Slaves, this isn’t necessarily a problem; though, here the juxtapositions and transitions don’t gut-punch as sweetly as they did on that release. Most obvious in this regard is the placement of “Diamond Terrifier [Zebrablood Remix],” which cleverly places the freeform drones of the original track into a piece that recalls the pleasantly metronomic offerings of Kompakt’s Pop Ambient series, but which, at 12 minutes long and placed in the center of New Slaves II, cannot quite sustain the tension crucial to the effectiveness of Zs’ best work. None of this is to say, however, that New Slaves II isn’t effective or illuminating, even without the context of its reintegration into Zs’ sound, with each contributor offering something in terms of the tension between clarity and abstraction that has become so characteristic of the group’s output. And even inconsistency becomes a virtue when Zs are at least partially using the album a means rather than an end — they’ve moved the discussion of New Slaves II outside of the traditional format, even if it can’t help but be pulled back to those terms.
And that opening original is not to be ignored either; structured around a near-gothic organ progression that crops up throughout, it deftly plays with sudden injections of balled-up samples, dancing toward and away from a rise-and-fall structure. With its clever interplay of stasis, progression, and cut-up structures, it suggests a variety of compositional techniques both in dialogue with one another and in constant opposition. It’s a lithe yet monolithic little number, as bewildering and involving as their best work, making it clear that reintegrating remix material was not just a conceptual game but also a clever way of introducing new compositional techniques into their repertoire. With “Essence Implosion!”, and with New Slaves II as a whole, it’s clear that Zs take the constant cross-pollination of the internet era as a legitimate compositional tool. Wherever the group goes from here, it’s sure to be worth following. For me, I’m kind of hoping they get a pop singer — they’ve proved they can make anything work, so why not?
Suggested closing remarks for remix album review:
“Even if every track doesn’t hit home, taking the time to dig will reveal some jewels.”
“A well-deserved victory lap following their excellent previous release.”
Both of the above apply here. Thankfully, they’re also far from adequate. We can place New Slaves II at some distance away from “suck,” I guess.