Zammuto is the solo project of Nick Zammuto, perhaps best known as one half of folktronica duo The Books. The Books quietly disbanded earlier this year, but they were known for their groundbreaking use of sampling, which they layered with simple, acoustic folk elements to make surprisingly tender compositions. Now on his own, Zammuto still remains caught in that juxtaposition between harsh, synthetic noise and lighter instrumentation. In fact, the major difference between Zammuto’s self-titled debut and his work with The Books is that Zammuto is a little less sample-heavy and perhaps a little less dense, for better or for worse.
Again, the core sound here will be very familiar to those who’ve heard his prior work. Instrumentation is kept mostly simple and very folksy: a few stray plucks on an acoustic guitar, maybe some light strings. That’s kept constant and the generally pleasant mood and groove that Zammuto established during his tenure with The Books is the same, but everything else is tweaked slightly for this solo effort.
There are a few stray samples throughout the album, but they don’t drive the songs the way that they did with his previous work. Instead, the songs are actually rather vocal-driven, and unlike the clean, folksy vocals you might be expecting, these vocals are very heavily filtered and almost robotic. This sounds like a recipe for disaster (especially since Zammuto has clearly proven that he has the chops to really sing), but here, mixed with the samples and lingering strings, it actually sounds pretty natural after you give it some time to settle.
It’s difficult to really say whether this album benefits from its less-dense sound or not. On one hand, it’s a very accessible album; once listeners get over the robotically tweaked vocals, they’ll have a very easy time listening through the album and absorbing its sound. On the other hand, it might rob Zammuto’s compelling and interesting style of its longevity: denser songs might be difficult to crack into and immediately enjoy, but repeat listens of Zammuto’s earlier work always got progressively more and more enjoyable as listener’s learned to peel back the many layers and discover the core of the song.
On a more positive note, there are absolutely no duds on Zammuto, which is a rare find. Every song feels unique, well-developed and interesting. The fact that nothing here feels like filler makes a world of difference and really helps the album overall.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few standout tracks, though. Surprisingly, the two longest tracks on the album might be the most compelling. Both “Groan Man, Don’t Cry” and “Harlequin” start in a sort of plodding, uncomfortable territory before building into something much larger and grander. Both of these tracks clock in at more than five minutes, and that extra time allows the songs to really establish a groove, then mess with that groove by building it up or stripping it down in interesting ways.
A colleague referred to this album as “The Books Lite,” a very succinct and accurate representation of what Zammuto is: folktronica in a very similar vein as The Books, just a little less heavy on the sampling. Don’t let that discourage you, though; fans of The Books or those looking for something fun and experimental will find Zammuto’s solo debut an easy record to enjoy, if not one that they will listen to forever.
Zammuto – Zammuto tracklist:
- “Groan Man, Don’t Cry”
- “Idiom Wind”
- “F U C-3PO
- “Too Late to Topologize”
- “Zebra Butt”
- “Weird Ceiling”
- “The Shape of Things to Come”
- “Full Fading”