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splendid > reviews > 7/18/2002
The Zenith
The Zenith
History Punishes Those Who Leave Last
Milquetoast Recordings


Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Rubbery"

Buy me now
The Zenith bill themselves as an experimental pop/electronica septuplet from Tallahassee, Florida. With twenty albums to choose from -- opera, Japanese-u-like or IDM? -- their style is maddeningly broad, something that's continued on History Punishes Those Who Leave Last. There are glitchy software-constructed songs, there are indie-pop bounce and there's riot-grrrl-meets-calculator experimenalism -- and this is one of their more focused, approachable albums. It's a ride that, on paper, sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, but is actually one of the more compelling things I've heard lately.

"No One Has Mauled Me The Way You Do" is the greatest tune that latter-day Radiohead have never written: juddery piano and eerie background wailing combine to create something that's either a heartfelt homage or the most successful pisstake of Thom Yorke et al that's ever been laid down. This sense of borrowing continues elsewhere: The Tea Party would never release anything as low-fi rock-ass as "Antithesis", and this is where The Zenith are winning. Remember those books where you could create different characters by alternating heads, torsos and legs? That's precisely what's going on here. A little Trent Reznor, a little Aphex Twin and a little Jeff Martin? You got it: track four. Just when you think it's all electronica and loopy manipulation, there'll be a twist that keeps things fresh: "Nanowhores" sounds like early PJ Harvey going for the jugular -- until the beats, piano-vinyl scratching and what sounds like sampled Samuel Barber kicks in. It's a blend, a form of schizophrenia that works well because it is so knowing -- just without irony.

Strangely, given their overwhelmingly-electronic construction, some of The Zenith's tunes bring nothing to mind more readily than Rachel's. "All That Will Be Left" features, bookended by overechoed beats and warps, some rather lovely keyboard work that I swear is missing from Selenography. It's these moments of calm, quite aside from the "Heh! I know where they're pulling that feel from!" parts, that make History Punishes Those Who Leave Last a rewarding disc.

The Zenith's music is well worth seeking out -- with all the genre-straddling on offer here, there's bound to be something that speaks to you. This is something you deserve to hear.



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