The organ is one of the weirdest instruments to ever grace rock ‘n’ roll. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever hear someone say, “Whoa man! Did you hear that mind melting organ solo?” And while many a budding guitarist has a plethora of potential heroes, the organist is with left with few, if any, verifiable rock gods to worship. Yeah, sure, there’s Ray Manzarek of the Doors, Rick Wakeman of Yes, and Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. But let’s face it, in today’s current rock landscape, these guys are, to say the least, kind of uncool. Nor do they really make music you can boogie to. Finally, and let me tell you this was way overdue, the hip organist has found its muse.
zZz consists of an organ and drums, with an occasional synth showing up here and there for good measure. Think Death from Above 1979, if bassist Jesse Keeler was replaced with Animals organist Alan Price. The Animals are an obvious touchstone for zZz because of Daan Schinkel’s organ, but, then again, so is any other band with prominent use of the instrument, solely because of its unique sound and comparatively infrequent use. But zZz differ from other organ heavy bands in that their music is really, dare I say it? Danceable. If you’ve ever felt that great need to get down in Church as soon as the organ starts, zZz are the perfect outlet for your frustrations. Schinkel’s organ is rather refreshing at a time when clone bands are just discovering how lucrative it is to mimic the sound of the moment.
Even though the organ adds a sense of originality to zZz’s sound, they actually sound best when the organ is toned down a bit. By the middle of the album, the organ starts to become rather grating and begins to border on ice cream truck-song fair. Songs like “House of Sin” and “Sweet Sex” help zZz out a little bit by dulling the organ and brining up the synth. But the organ rages back to the forefront in “Godspeed,” a song with serious attention deficit disorder in a new wave sort of way, and stays there for “Uncle Sam,” or what the press release calls a “near seven minute, psychedelic opus,” which I think is just a synonym for bloated dinosaur rock. Don’t get me wrong, before “Uncle Sam” became a psychedelic opus, it was a pretty good song with pounding drums and creepy vocals but then it just descends into a barrage of annoying sound. Fortunately, the song “Roses” makes a quick save at the end of the album, with a toned down organ and feedback that would make even the Brothers Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain proud.
Despite hailing from Amsterdam, zZz sing in English, not Dutch, but I didn’t figure this out until the album’s second song, “Ecstasy,” mainly because the poorly enunciated lyrics on opening track “O.F.G.” are relegated to the back in favor of Schinkel’s infectious organ line, which almost sounds like it could be from the Animals’
“House of the Rising Sun,” if it weren’t so damn fun. The vocals are more of a focus for “Ecstasy,” a campy little ditty in which Ottenheim gets away with his best Ian Curtis impression. Camp is a trait zZz has in spades and whether this is intentional or not is probably up to the listener but I couldn’t help but let out a giggle when Ottenheim breathily whispers “ecstasy” throughout the song of the same name. The organ itself is a kind of a campy instrument — a gimmick. And, like most gimmicks, it gets annoying but, to zZz’s credit, when it’s not camp, it’s spot on. The fact that English is a second language for zZz probably doesn’t help in the battle against camp, nor does it particularly help with their lyrical content. “Lucy” is a shining example, with spoken vocals such as “I only met you last week /You swept me off my feet,” or “You feel so good/I feel pretty good too.” Not to mention Bjorn’s occasional moaning, which makes “Lucy” particularly funny.
Now go, you burgeoning rock ‘n’ roll organists, you! Seek out zZz’s
Sounds of zZz! Be educated in the ways of the boogie-down organ and camp-tastic lyrics! And most importantly, don’t do drugs.
The Animals – The Best of the Animals
Death From Above 1979 – You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine
The Doors – The Doors