I first heard Zoot Woman back when people bought CDs; it was a lifetime ago (2009 to be precise) whilst scouring for some new tunes that I spied a sticker that highlighted Stuart Price’s name. I’d heard of him under his Thin White Duke, Les Rythmes Digitales and Jacques Lu Cont pseudonyms and took a chance on Things Are What They Used To Be. It was love at first spin, as they say.
Price has worked with more artists than you can poke a walkman at and if the Grammy Award-winner has taught the music world anything, it’s how to produce an album. The Killers (‘Day & Age’), Pet Shop Boys (‘Electric’) and even our Kylie Minogue (‘Aphrodite’) have him to thank for success.
Alongside brothers Adam and Johnny Blake, the trio have been making music as Zoot Woman since 1996. This, their fourth full-length studio album Star Climbing, was three years in the making.
The album’s opener ‘Don’t Tear Yourself Apart‘ continues where TAWTYTB left us, with a smooth yet scintillating groove. On the other end of the spectrum (and album), the lyric-less ‘Elusive’ is a slow building instrumental abyss of untamed flicks and brooding bass guitar.
‘Rock & Roll Symphony’ shifts gears to a gentle throttle, but ‘Lifeline’ takes it that one step further. If you’re a Zoot Woman fan you’ll know ‘Saturation’ from TAWTUTB was kind of a big deal, but here ‘Lifeline’ takes it to another level. Suffice to say I’ve struggled to put into words just how good it is; “infinitely amazing” is going to have to suffice. The thumping, plucky bass hooks you in an instant and right now it’s my favourite song I’ve heard this year.
There are several album highlights; the themes are generally uplifting and lyrically positive, Johnny Blake’s smoky vocal range and the inverse paces that keep you on your toes.
Zoot Woman could quite easily produce an album using guest vocalists, such is their strength in creating, nay perfecting, that 80’s synth-pop sound, but Johnny’s vocals give emotive depth few could match. Keeping it all ‘in house’, whilst perhaps pigeon-holing themselves to the confines of one sound, encourages the challenge to better what they’ve previously created and reads as a strength than a weakness or hindrance.
The trio have an uncanny ability to produce a cyclic sound or lyric without it being annoying, sound quite expansive and yet most of the tracks manage to clock in radio-friendly time. The familiarity of sound may not impress some, but within the predictability is an assurance of a high quality which few other acts can muster. It’s nothing if consistent with their previous albums, so why mess with the formula?