Fueled by inspiration from minimalist indie jazz-rock, postcollegiate malaise and a few cases of Hamm’s, Utah! is leaving us behind after only a few metro-area hellos. The Kalamazoo outfit is taking its highbrow, ebb-and-flow sound to North Carolina. No worries, though. With ’Zoo Sounds and Destructovision as its impressive debut and promising indie startup Arborvitae on its side, future tours and releases will surely follow soon.
Anyone who’s ever lived in Kalamazoo has a million weird anecdotes of his or her love-hate relationship with this town. And in a place that’s more Chest Rockwell than Norman Rockwell, Utah! fused a cello with traditional tools to catalogue the ’Zoo’s oddities and … rock well.
Utah! doesn’t work very hard to cover up its influences. It’s easy to hear Cap’n Jazz, Rachel’s, Braid, June of 44 and Jeremy Enigk on ’Zoo Sounds. “The boy who gave away the bomb,” for instance, meanders its way from droning loopism to express heartfelt angst with Eric Singer’s upper-register bass rhythms bouncing gently back and forth between Ed Pellino’s restrained guitar and Anne Polesnak’s engaging cello melodies. This kinetic sound, facilitated by the expressively buoyant drumming of Micky D’loughy, evokes the weightless emotionality of the above bands at their best.
“Derek” is a sunny, nostalgic stroll that winds in and out of both sides of bittersweet remembrance for one of the best listening experiences here. Singing happens on ’Zoo Sounds, although it’s not a focal point. Lyrics are used in an elemental way to sparsely pepper tracks like “Babette’s Areola” (nice title, guys) at appropriate intervals.
Complete with a really cool Quicktime video of a Trocar song that features Pellino and a makeshift robot’s existential quest for understanding, Utah! starts off on the right foot. Engineered by indie shaman Bob Weston, ’Zoo Sounds is a short-but-sweet debut.
E-mail Robert Gorell at firstname.lastname@example.org.