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Z*L, Ghost Box Orchestra get psyched

Posted by Scott McLennan  May 8, 2013 02:27 PM

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Ghost Box Orchestra and Z*L have record release-shows on Friday, and in their own individual ways, both bands will be offering a variation on psych rock. Ghost Box Orchestra is the more ostensibly psychedelic of the two, playing cinematic instrumentals that rely on lots of slow-build tensions and releases. Z*L is more garage-psych, offering a quicker pounce. Here's a look at both their albums.

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"Vanished" is the second full-length from Ghost Box Orchestra and reveals the band to be growing more adventurous. Most every move on the album is subtle, but effective, as dynamics shift in such ways as to create sweeping mood swings and wholesale changes in the project's overall atmosphere.

A lot of psych flounders on repetition mistaken as meditation. Ghost Box Orchestra avoids that problem altogether with tunes that keep the action moving. There's really no formula at play, just some inventive interplay among guitarists Chris Johnson and Jeremy Lassetter, keyboard player Nazli Green, drummer Martin Rex, and bassist Dennis Noble (who has since been replaced by Zac McGowan).

The songs stay compelling because something always seems to be moving. On the song "Vanished," for instance, a spectral wave of keyboard and fuzzed-out guitar washes over the central, loping riff then recedes in time for the song to drift off in light, airy tendrils.

Ghost Box Orchestra also pays attention to bigger themes. The sinister and chaotic "From Darkness" precedes the spry "Into the Light." And is it possible that the entire song "Vader" grew from the "heavy-breathing" beat laced int the song?

The album has a good balance between drone and fury, and Ghost Box Orchestra adds its own signature to the psych style by blending ostensibly tumbleweed Western and Middle Eastern motifs into its melodies.

Ghost Box Orchestra is playing Friday upstairs at the Middle East , 472 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. Animal Hospital, Royal Wedding, and the Ocular Audio Experiment are also on the bill. Doors open at 8 p.m.


The self-titled debut from Z*L is dark and edgy, but surprisingly tender (albeit in sad ways) in spots. But popping offbeat surprises and playing with a steady sense of exploration are at the heart of this band's work here.

The trio of guitarist Ian Adams, bassist Isabel Riley, and drummer Jack "Knife" Guilderson conjures a crackling and bruised tone across this 10-song set released by Midriiff Records that for the most part pokes around the dark alleys; what do you expect from a record with one song called "Black Luck" and another called "Black Meds"?

But amid the rip offs in "Mike Hill" and seedy situations in "Steev Millar," Z*L tucks in the sad demise of the drifter from "A Town Called Romeo" and strikes a mournful tone on "When I Was Dead."

Adams and Riley swap leads vocals and sometimes harmonize, so for a scrappy garage combo of this sort, that kind of of arrangement provides some sonic depth without having to tamper with the compact, prickly song structures that give the band its identity. It also highlights the richness of the abstract images woven into the caterwauling.

Z*L doesn't barrel through its songs in traditional punk fashion even though the trio is definitely playing against popular trends. Instead, it stakes its outsider turf with dirty, reverb-laced melodies and and loose-limbed rhythms that tease at being sloppy before you realize just how efficient they are. This is music that manages to be simultaneously dark and vivid.

Z*L is playing Friday at Radio, 379 Somerville Ave., Somerville. Thalia Zedek, Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, and You People are also on the bill. Show time is 9 p.m.

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About the author

Scott McLennan is a Boston Globe music correspondent and previously wrote a music and entertainment column for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette for 15 years. After seeing the band Boston in the Boston Garden as a teenager he never looked back and eventually figured out how to be a professional fan. Scott is very good at writing in the dark. This blog is an ongoing discussion about music happening in and around Boston. Scott will be leading the trek across genres looking for new releases and hot shows as well as just checking in with the people who make Boston such a great place to listen. More »
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