Defining punk has been a fool's errand since it -- whatever "it" is -- separated itself from glam four decades ago. This is why the discussion is most often left to kids not yet old enough to drive, which is appropriate, since it is primarily the youthful, optimistic belief that punk exists which actually makes it exist. Year in and year out a fresh panel of teens dons Docs and dye jobs and believes, and while gratitude might not be the most obvious reaction, we should be grateful to every last one of them; there's only one way to make old punks. Obviating the exercise of defining the term "punk" is its surprising ductility, which lets it apply broadly and without regard for the revisionist, '80s rock mag orthodoxy fed to kids that posits a Holy Trinity of Damned, Pistols and Clash. Indeed, American bands like X and The Cramps in the west, and Talking Heads and Blondie in the east, laid a much broader -- and, some might argue, more exciting -- foundation for punk rock. Which is a long way of explaining why Boston trio Z*L's self-titled debut is one of the most exciting punk records we've heard in a long while.
Z*L's dark and moody debut full-length stands apart on the strength of the two-year-old act's admirable synthesis of influences overlooked in contemporary music. The act is comprised of former 8-Ball Shifter and Rock City Crimewave guy Ian Adams; bassist Isabel Reilly, formerly of Vera Go Go; and drummer Jack Knife, who previously played with The Ghost Of Tony Gold. And while Z*L may not be mapping a new, unique sound, Z*L confidently distinguishes itself by zagging into doomy rockabilly, wiry post-punk and bluesy psych -- as did certain of those aforementioned American forebears -- while the rest of the pack zigs on autpilot. Z*L catches fire slowly but inevitably, and by the time the cowpunk ballad "Mermaid Knife" rolls around the trio has coaxed a full-on conflagration. The tune is a spare, mid-tempo rumination with harmonized vocals and jangly guitar that swells to fill all of the space in its impassioned choruses. Z*L is ready and able to surprise on an almost-song-to-song basis all the while maintaining focus on rocking out, which makes it pass by surprisingly fast. The trio dispenses doomy, bluesy sludge in "A Town Called Romeo," only to follow it up by desperately bashing through the fuzzed-out, anthem "Black Meds." The album's blunt, melodic opener, "Mike Hill" echoes Jets To Brazil's "Morning New Disease," while the closing ballad "When I Was Dead" solemnly recounts an exhumation before its western twang gives way to a noisy, cinematic denouement that will make you grateful that some old punks still believe.
Midriff Records issues Z*L April 23; the release will be preceded by a certain-to-be-kickass show at Midriff's home away from home, Radio in Somerville, on April 19. Fans who buy the CD at the release show will also receive three very cool posters and a lyric sheet as well, according to the Facebook. The release show also features the legendary Thalia Zedek and her band, so it should be an awesome evening of rock and roll all around (Ms. Zedek, of course, recently wrapped a successful residency at TT The Bear's celebrating the release of her umpteenth solo set Via, which was issued by Thrill Jockey last month, and she will be touring with her stellar '90s band Come later this spring and summer). We're able to offer you a stream of Z*L's "Black Meds" below thanks to the good people of Midriff, so take a listen. Midriff previously released a solo set from Mr. Adams titled Stay Up Late in June 2009, about which you can learn more by clicking this link or this link.