Zs: “AcresRMX” (Gabe Andruzzi Remix)[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/acresrmxgabeandruzzi.mp3|titles=Zs: “AcresRMX” (Gabe Andruzzi Remx)]
It would be just like the beaten-to-death art of the remix to take on new life in scorched earth.
Nothing about New York avant-garde group Zs has a hook to give people a happy thrill of recognition when it pops up combined with something unexpected. Not only do sax player Sam Hillmer and his bandmates create sounds that no sane instrument maker could have intended, they do so systematically, in drawn-out patterns of percussive fury.
It certainly has elements of noise and free jazz to it, but even that doesn’t do credit to Zs’ disciplined pursuit of alien, enveloping sound mass. Processing its music can be so demanding — the band has a stated goal of “challeng[ing] the physical and mental limitations of both performer and listener” — that making sense of it might as well be a constructive act of hands-on interpretation.
Refreshingly, the remixers on New Slaves Part II: Essence Implosion! use the opportunity to explore the sounds that Zs pried from extended technique and beyond-maddening feats of repetition on the first New Slaves. Three tracks — “New Slaves,” “Concert Black,” and “Acres Of Skin” — get two remixes here. Neither pair immediately seems to come from the same source, and that’s a great sign.
“MMW IV: Essence Implosion!” might be the closest you can get to a whirlwind, instant-gratification tour of Zs’ approach to sound. The New Slaves tracks tend to focus their power on a hand-clap beat or murmuring sax until it blurs into something bigger. This track is more of a panoramic splatter, ostensibly building on elements of all the remix tracks to follow.
Despite the overpowering nature of the source material, some of the tracks become less brutal here. That’s especially true for Ecstatic Sunshine‘s remix of “Concert Black,” aptly nicknamed “(Spacewalking Version).” The pleasantly ringing guitars of the original thicken up and come to the front. The incessant turbo-tapping beat of the original congeals into something slow and rubbery. Zebrablood‘s take on “Black Crown Ceremony 1: Diamond Terrifier” fades the volume up and down to create a rhythm that’s alternately queasy and lilting.
The comfort factor switches to an emphatic negative on Thee Majesty‘s nano-dissection of “Concert Black.” It makes the song bigger all around with hard, static-boulder beats, and elevates the tenacious little shreds of melody scattered throughout the song. Rather than delving deeper into the song’s potential for warmth as Ecstatic Sunshine does, Thee Majesty seems able to extract bits of it and lay the pieces out on a distant backdrop of clinical confidence. “Concert Black” is full of the irony of the remix; TM appreciates all that lurks within Zs’ music but is remorseless in changing it.
Like the original songs, these tracks take time to explore and mutate through extended phases. Cex mixes equal parts “Acres Of Skin” and sexy electro on his track. The resultant substance drips through the beat with all the viscosity and filth of melting wallpaper glue. Cex also lays on heavier and more frantic percussion as he goes.
The artist who really masterfully dances into the rhythmic jaws of Zs (or pries them open), though, is Weasel Walter on “New Slaves.” The production of New Slaves can at times make the instruments sound a little too sweated and fuzzed together. Weasel Walter separates the elements out and lets them slam together all over again, sealing them into a wonderful private hell where the ricochets are infinite.
JG Thirlwell‘s take on the same song plays to its menacing side as well, compressing all it into a taught three minutes and adding malignant little bubbles of melodic complement throughout. Putting a rambunctious post-punk streak into the song, Thirlwell also shows how Zs can lend itself to more rocking and punchy moments. And what are remixes for, if not to combine the familiar with a sense of the unlikely?
Even if Zs’ music is designed never to lose its jarring impact, these remixes will send some listeners back to experience it with fresh, weirdly reassured ears. It doesn’t come close to spoiling the infernal mystery of the source material. Yet it’s far more revelatory, active, and inquisitive than just beat-matching a couple of your favorite blog tracks.