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Zopp - Zopp CD (album) cover

ZOPP

Zopp

 

Canterbury Scene

4.06 | 187 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
5 stars Once upon a time when the Canterbury Scene referred to a specific cast of players who crafted a distinct improvisational style of progressive music that blended disparate doses of jazz, rock and psychedelia embellished with clever technically infused tight-knit rhythms along with a healthy dose of satirical whimsy. These artists emerged from the English city that gave name to a distinct subset of prog but after the initial 70s roster of artists had played itself out, the style quickly went out of fashion. Despite prog's decline as the 70s ended, the Canterbury Scene sounds provided enough inspiration for various musicians all over the world to adopt its unique musical approach. While several Canterbury bands continued the style on as solo artists, not much was heard of this absurdist sect of jazz-rock. Slowly but surely as the 80s churned on, bands like Mr. Sirius and Stubbs from Japan as well as The Muffins in the USA kept the spirit alive but even though a few bands like Moom and Tanger joined the party in the 90s and a few more such as Planeta Imaginario, Six North and Earth Wind Pot took on the complexes of Canterbury in the 2000s, the style didn't really make a true resurrection of the past until the 2010s with bands like Spain's Amoeba Split, Italy's Homunculus Res and Japan's DeLorians giving this unique form of comfort prog a much needed renaissance.

While the Canterbury Scene was making a comeback so to speak, most of the newer artists no longer English except a few outliers such as Magic Bus and Lapis Lazuli but that is changing as the newer generations seem to be catching the Canterbury bug. One of the newest artists to fall into this addictive situation is the Nottingham based ZOPP and after ten years of crafting its debut album has finally emerged onto the international scene to bring back all those warm feelings associated with the greats such as Hatfield and the North, National Health and Soft Machine. ZOPP is the brainchild and musical outlet for Ryan Stevenson who discovered the wonderful world of Canterbury sounds back in the early 2000s when he ran across a few Egg tracks on his dad's computer. Having been immediately smitten, his fascination led him to all the wonderful sounds that made the beloved style of prog so warm and inviting. Add to that the love of the jazz-fusion era of Frank Zappa, a fondness for Porcupine Tree and seeing a live performance of Anekdoten in Bergen, Norway and Stevenson was well on his way to his own obsession of crafting unique musical visions. Hmmm, could the moniker ZOPP be a sly reference to Zappa?

This debut ZOPP album was a labor of love that started all the way back in 2010 and what began as a musical pastiche of sections from Zappa's 'Uncle Meat' and 'Hot Rats' albums, slowly transmogrified into a major solo project that became much more eclectic as elements of not only Canterbury jazz but also electronic, minimalism, hard rock and various strains of prog slowly found their way into the compositions. After a few years off with an attempt at playing in the band scenario, Stevenson returned to the solitude of his visions that began the ZOPP project except that the time had come to take it all to the next level. With his Korg CX-3 and Nord Electro 5d synth organ rearing to go with the help of various fuzz pedals and wah-wah effects, Stevenson solicited the help of others which resulted in a collaboration with drummer Andrea Moneta of the Italian neo-prog band Leviathan but it wasn't until he met fellow keyboardist Andy Tilliison of The Tangent that he received some lessons in how to mix and produce an album that trims the fat and allows all the cream to rise to the top. The results were spectacular!

While technically ZOPP is a duo that consists of Ryan Stevenson (keyboards, mellotron M4000D, Hammond organ, Arturia analogue synthesizer, Korg CX-3 organ, piano, Hohner Pianet T, Nord Electro 5d, bass and electric guitars, voice, field recordings, percussion) and Andrea Moneta (drums and percussion), the album is really a band effort with the additional sounds coming from Andy Tillison (additional piano, additional Hammond organ, Leslie processing, synth, effects), Theo Travis (flute) Mike Benson (tenor saxophone) and the extra voice from Caroline Joy Clarke. While the sounds are retro enough to take you back to the golden years of the Canterbury Scene, the music is eclectic, original and dynamically diverse as well as graced with all the modern production wizardry that makes every sound crisp and clear.

The opening collage track may be called 'Swedish Love,' but with organ sounds right out of the 70s followed by the placid heavenly sounds of Hatfield & the North's diva section The Northettes immediately followed by some ominous feedback fuzz, it's apparent that the track's choice reference to nationality was of sure contradictory whimsy as the sounds clearly evoke the Kent Downs or the white cliffs of Dover just a stone's throw away! As the intro cedes into 'Before The Light' it becomes apparent that another major Canterbury force is at play and that is the love of National Health with strident display of dualistic keyboard effects, those familiar jazzy chord leaps into that undefinable yet unmistakable Canterbury style. Fortified with a heavier prog guitar heft more akin to bands like Anekdoten and Porcupine Tree, it's immediately clear that ZOPP is not about retro fro retro's sake. This confident eponymous debut is quite serious in taking the CS into ever expansive terrains beyond the English channel into the greater world at large however except for the few examples of wordless vocals, this one is entirely instrumental.

With nine tracks that are just shy of a 45 minute playing time, ZOPP keeps the classic feel of a 70s album but benefits from the professional experience from a seasoned prog veteran such as Moneta as well as a modern seamless production job by Andy Tillison. The tracks are well paced ranging from energetic rockers such as 'Eternal Return' and 'Sanger' to the lugubrious piano ballad 'Sellan'.' Mid-tempo tracks like 'V' offer all the delectable Canterbury complexities with time signature rich piano parts, varying keyboard tones and timbres as well as a nice jazzy romp through varying processions of those familiar Hammond organ and mellotron excesses that evoke all those warm and fuzzy feelings of yore. Think early Egg, a little Supersister and a whole lotta National Health and Hatfield and you're on the right track. This is a stunning debut that proudly revives the fiery passionate of the classic Canterbury years with lots of juicy extra touches to keep this from being a hero worshipping folly. This is the real deal as far as cleverly crafted musicianship goes and perhaps one of the best Canterbury albums i've heard in modern times. Is it time for a scorpion or time for some tea? Listen to ZOPP and set yourselves freeeeeeeeeee!

siLLy puPPy | 5/5 |

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