Alt Tuesday: ZOX

Few albums can remind me of home like ZOX’s 2006 release, The Wait. Perhaps this is because the just so happens to be a local legend where I come from. The Providence based quartet is on a sort of hiatus right now, but that doesn’t stop them from reuniting and tearing apart Lupo’s (a local venue in Providence) for an evening once or twice a year. The Wait, their second of three releases, is a masterful blend of ska, punk, and alternative influences, with a shredding viola player thrown in for good measure.

The album opener (after a 30 second intro track of echoed drums) is “Thirsty,” which is carried by guitarist/lead singer, Eli Miller’s catchy ska riffs. His heartfelt, straight-to-the-point lyricism is displayed prominently here, as he bellows in the chorus “This wouldn’t be the first time / You left me thirsty / This wouldn’t be the first time you went your way and left me empty, dry.”

The album’s lead single comes in third and it is the bass driven “Carolyn.” A gorgeously structured pop song driven by Dan Edinberg’s smooth bass lines, Carolyn offers a very honest story about the troubles of being in love.

This is a reoccurring theme on The Wait, as Eli Miller tends to focus on the more difficult part of his love life. Unlike many of the genre’s whiney counterparts, he comes off entirely sincere.

Other stand out tracks on the album include “A Little More Time,” “Spades,” and “Anything But Fine.” The songs are phenomenally constructed, sporting clever lyricism (“You said that words could only get you so far / But I’ve got sentences to cover up all my scars”) and intelligent musicianship. What is astounding about ZOX as a band is that they are simply a whole band. Each member shines in their own particular way, whether it be Spencer Swain’s catchy viola riffs in “Can’t Look Down” (embedded below… try to not get it stuck in your head, I dare you) or John Zox’s simply undeniable drum grooves on tracks like “Big Fish”.

I will leave you with this: ZOX is a very tight band. It’s simply four musicians who know how to write great songs. If you want to up your indie hipster cred (sample conversation: “Have you ever heard of ZOX? No? I didn’t think so. They’re pretty obscure…”) and find some music that is in no way shitty, but is in all ways awesome, I would suggest listening to The Wait.

Alt Tuesday: Ben Folds

It’s pretty rare to see a songwriter break away from his original band and start a more successful solo project. But Ben Folds is a resourceful guy. Before forming Ben Folds Five, he was a percussion major at UMiami and played the hell out of the bass and piano in his down time. Ben Folds Five disbanded in the early 2000s and Folds was left to record most of the instruments for Rockin’ the Suburbs, his 2001 release, alone. This task may have been a problem for mere mortals, but after a week of listening to the 12 song LP, I’ve figured out that Folds is no mere mortal.

The album begins with the energetic “Annie Waits,” which properly sets the tone for the album by alternating a catchy piano riff with precisely placed claps. The track is layered with strong bass lines and several keyboards that are a strong part of Folds’ signature sound. One of the album’s strongest tracks, “Zak And Sara,” follows with thundering mixolydian piano arpeggios and lyrics about two oddball lovers navigating their young lives together. A delightful version of the song with Ben Folds and WASO is posted below:

The emerging pattern displayed here continues throughout the rest of the album. Most of Folds’ tunes tell tragic stories of the downfalls of various members of suburbia. “The Ascent of Stan” tells the story of an ex-hippie who has gone corporate, while “Fred Jones Part 2” is about a man who was fired from his job at an old age. The first nine tracks generally follow this trend and leave the listener thinking, “Alright Ben… suburban life isn’t that bad…” Well. Ben thought the same thing.

The title track, “Rockin’ the Suburbs” shows Folds’ lighter side. The hit single sarcastically plays upon the angsty cry of many modern musicians, displaying hilarious lyrics such as “I’ll take the checks and face the facts / That some producer with computers fixes all my shitty tracks.” It’s tough to not crack a smile when Folds insists “Y’all don’t know what it’s like / being male, middle class, and white” in his toughest rapper voice. For those who aren’t into piano based “punk for pussies” (as Folds describes his music), “Rockin’ the Suburbs” is a fantastic gateway song.

All in all, Folds does quite well on his own. If you are in the mood to smile at a quirky lyric or tap your foot to some undeniably catchy piano melodies, this is the album for you.

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