As soon as I started listening to Zammuto’s sophomore record, Anchor, I scrawled those exact three OTHERS — Bon Iver, The Postal Service, The Shins — onto a Post-it note, not because it sounds like those artists necessarily, but because it exudes a similar deftness amidst moments of prismatic abstraction. Later, while I was scrounging for some cheap information (read: inspiration) for a clever introduction (or some kind of igniting quote or something), I came across Pitchfork’s review of Zammuto’s 2012 self-titled debut, and linked within its text were those exact three artists.
So, as Zammuto’s follow-up initially unfolded into my listening space, somewhat clunkily at first yet all too familiarly — like a bamboo mat — my first (lazy) critical thought was that it was a simplified darkening of faded lines on old blueprints, its sturdy yet purposefully off-kilter mix of hermetic folk, cabin living room “indietronica,” and reductionist pop not as much an electrifying extension of that sporadic, alternating current that has ran through former Books member Nick Zammuto’s previous work as a slight rewiring of it for a more comfortable, intimate environment.
As I listened further, however, ears “stretching” accordingly, ass sinking in my bottomed-out desk chair, hand limply crumpling that aforementioned Post-it note, I noticed that, while in form, Anchor isn’t exploring vastly different territory from Zammuto’s experimental scrap-book song structures, its refined clarity and directness exposing a unique confidence that comes with settling in and moving on with life. Despite its streamlined and cut-back approach, though, Anchor isn’t Zammuto simply resting on its laurels, it’s Zammuto constructing a hearth out of imprinted stones, laurels wilting into accomplished smiles in dusty cardboard boxes.
As impressionistic opener “Good Graces” turns kaleidoscopically from a euphoric blanket of soft tones overlain with scrambled vocal edits into a deep-brooding downtempo rock tune juxtaposed with pitched-up vocals, I can’t help but think of Dustin Wong’s expressive yet procedural Mediation of Ecstatic Energy. This “ecstatic energy” continues through follow-up “Great Equator,” a propulsive track that showcases Zammuto’s impeccable technical craft in makeshift percussion, cut-and-plaster editing, and uncompromised vocal affectations, all while retaining a conventional form. It is Anchor’s most exciting and most concise track. Anchor’s low points, however, come when conventional songwriting weighs down otherwise uninhibited experimental forays, such as on “Hegemony,” a track that begins strongly with quick, heavily syncopated drumming and gloriously glitchy guitar riffs, but quickly settles into a drab vocal play on two different pronunciations of “hegemony.”
Appropriately, Anchor’s last track, “Code Breaker,” is a contemplative, wordless electronic groove. While jagged edits attempt to interrupt its flow like shurikens aimed at car tires, its appeal as an album closer comes with its sense of poise and purpose as it glides on and builds up. Then, without notice, it stops abruptly, and Anchor as we know it is over, as if its makers decided that is was time for dinner. And so, although Anchor feels lacking at times in terms of experimentation and exploration, its affirming energy and confidence never come off as suppressed, and it is through this lens that its true ambitions are revealed: play like you’ll never leave this place.