Thursday, 10 November 2016

Album Review: Wildlife - Zucchini Clan

Attention all you teachers, parents and environmental warriors out there, you really have to check out the zany Celtic duo Zucchini Clan at your earliest opportunity. Currently one of the most exciting kids bands around, they literally look and sound like they are from another planet. Their music is gentle and melodic and yet still packs a punch. They deliver compelling messages, but with a lightness of touch that is both imaginative and great fun. Their debut album Wildlife is superb, containing ten memorable songs, with instantly hummable memories, potent lyrics and skilful musicianship. There is a real revolution going on here, that begins and ends with The Zucchini Clan. Miss them at your peril, because they are seriously seeking out new directions, and boldly going where no band has gone before.

The opening song “Seasons” is sparse and hypnotic, and proceeds like a bizarre nursery rhyme, propelled by a powerful drumbeat. The sparsity of the verse creates the necessary space to launch a truly explosive chorus, which expands the melody very effectively. The lyrics explore how ‘seasons wait for no one, transporting us on an environmental journey, combining infectious melody with crystal clear vocals. The song initially celebrates the arrival of spring, and all the wonders that lie in store as  ‘the sun wakes up from its winter sleep’.  The lyrics also encourage healthy eating reminding the listener that junk food ‘makes you sick’, as we further embark on this musical journey where we are encouraged to ‘plant trees’ and go organic.

“Little Black Fly” is quite psychedelic and reminded me a little of Syd Barrett at his best. Once again there is a simple rhythm pattern, creating the space for the gradual introduction of instruments as the song progresses. The song has a great tune, and finishes with a rip-roaring guitar solo, which really takes the listener by surprise. You should also check out the video, which is equally memorable.  Up next the title track “Wildlife”, which is funkier, atmospheric and again flirts with a psychedelic feel, although this time with more of a nineties Brit Pop vibe. The electric guitar outburst could have been credited to Jimi Hendrix, although the main strength of the song is the way that it describes a selection of Australian animals to celebrate the beauty and diversity of Australian wildlife.

“Tooth Faery, is slower in tempo, and with a bit of a stretch could almost be described as ‘easy listening’. Here a female voice recaptures the nursery rhyme style featured earlier. Young children often struggle with the painful reality of wobbly teeth, and would no doubt be able to relate to this song. The lyrics focus on the problems children with loose teeth may experience, particularly during lunch break, and the sudden realisation that they  ‘can’t eat an apple yet’. The tooth fairy makes a cameo appearance, with lyrics that celebrate how the child has managed to ‘get coins from the tooth fairy.’  The drum pattern is imaginative, and the array of musicality on display throughout the song gives it an extra sparkle.  The reciprocal vocal at the end is also very effective taking the song out with shades of both blues and jazz competing for space.

“Happy Puppy” harnesses a somewhat layered orchestral vocal style in true sixties fashion, with shades of the Byrds or even Jefferson Airplane on display. The song is quite anthemic and features lyrics, which elaborate on a host of animals and their daily antics. The song also features a variety of instruments including what sounds like an accordion, effectively underpinned by a dynamic rhythm section. Some of the lyrics are rather eccentric, as we are informed that a ‘goose got loose on the fermenting juice.’   The somewhat melancholy backing vocals add an additional richness of texture to the track, which is hauntingly melodic and highly experimental.

Surely there can’t be another song in the world with the title “Crumbs From The Kitchen Floor”, and if there is I want to know about it.  Here, what sound like a banjo, and a variety of percussion instruments soon make way for a Celtic style vocal chant demanding ‘give me more more more crumbs from the kitchen floor.’ This is another highly melodic track, but with a more evocative style of delivery, and a musical depth that reminded me a little of Steeleye Span.

 “Black Fella/White Fella” has a tougher more uncompromising feel, and is a song, which unsurprisingly celebrates difference, emphasising the importance of being judged on individual merit. The song is much more up-tempo, with a sound brimming with pop sensibility. The song exudes total attitude with potent lyrics that hit the point as accurately as the drummer hits the snare drum.  This is a real call to arms climatically building to the point where the lead vocals emphatically declare ‘stand up and be counted.’

“Who are you?” is slower, and again reverts to the nursery rhyme style featured on some of the earlier tracks. This time we have a quite relaxed vocal delivery with a tonality reminiscent of Peter Gabriel.  In addition, there is a somewhat refined keyboard, enhanced by some rather sumptuous backing vocals. I’m sure the kids would love this song, as it is both clever and imaginative, and at times the music reminded me a little of the Pixies around their “Bossanova” era. Peter Gabriel meets The Pixies, now there’s an interesting combination!

“Log Trux” is a song that effectively berates deforestation, counting the carnage as a number of trees are decimated. The song is quite intense, and explores the full extent to which this destruction goes on ‘all day up and down the road.’  The vocal harmony is morbidly effective, with the band aversely joining in as they count the logs with dismay. This song packs a punch is hard hitting and delivers a stern message that we simply must ‘save the forest and let it grow’ The middle eight takes the pace down a notch as we are given time to reflect on how long these trees have actually been around. The musical diversion is also interesting, as is the electric guitar, which complements the vocal delivery. Here, the song flirts with the blues, drifting at times almost into Doors territory, or perhaps even Pink Floyd during their Animals phase.

“Spirit Princess” begins with a gentle piano and a lightness of touch, creating the space for the beautiful serenity of the lead vocal. What sounds like a mandolin resonates in the background, providing the perfect feel for the beauty and serenity of this Celtic lullaby to really shine.  The haunting majesty of the track is a great way to finish an album, leaving the listener in a kind of dream like state, contemplating life as the melody glides away.

This album has it all, wonderful musicianship, beautiful vocals, and songs which bridge the gap between musical depth and instant accessibility. The bands lyrical strength enables them to stand up as poets in their own right, through telling stories, which pan out like miniature folk tales.  Whether it is through their unique image or the originality of the music, you will never have seen or heard anything quite like this before. Perhaps their greatest appeal is they have created a new music; mixing psychedelic pop with nursery rhymes to deliver a potent message that is accessible to both adults and children.  I have heard that there's a new album in the pipeline, and if there is I look forward to hearing it.

Zucchini Clan – New Music for a new generation.