It is a strange phenomenon when you put in a bands debut full length for the first time and its sounds familiar and well worn in, as was the case for me with Zoo Animal’s debut, self titled long player. The band, a group I have really liked for the last few years, have been in pretty constant rotation with their debut EP and seeing them live too many times to count. Their debut, self titled LP is a great step for the band and really shows the strengths that front woman Holly Newsom possess as a songwriter and singer.
Like their previous work, the songs are built around skeletal guitar arrangements and sparse rhythms that highlight Newsom’s excellent avant pop songwriting. On album highlights like the unwieldy “Bad Seed,” the sweet “Worker Bee” and the dark and driving “Baybee,” the band shows their versatility and range by really stretching out their songs and incorporating different genres to back Newsom’s emotionally poignant voice. The songs are short (15 songs over a quick 40 minutes) but really cover a lot of ground. Like their EP, the album sounds a lot like a more volitale Chan Marshal fronting a more rootsy Pixies, but mostly the group does a good job of finding a way to create unique soundscapes that utilize and exploit the strengths of this three piece. Listening to the album, you get the distinct impression that this is a group who are consistently evolving and trying out new ideas, often mid song, and finding new ways to stretch out their unique songs. This LP is just another step in their ever changing sound and a record that shows a band with a lot of talent, and a group that will be exciting to watch as they move forward.
After their EP came out, the group made no secret of the fact that they were a Christian band. While that is something that would usually make me run for the hills, their work so far leans more towards Sufjan Stevens understated work than Jars of Clay (are they still around? Or whomever took their place) in your face, praise the lord work. While there are undoubtedly moments that find Newsom weaving her faith front and center, for the most part the album can be taken for what the listeners want. For non-believers, you can ignore. For believers, well, you have a very rare album that speaks to you and doesn’t, you know, suck. With their first official LP out, Zoo Animal are doing nothing to dampen the buzz that they are one of the best up and coming pop bands in Minneapolis and a group that seem to be going from strength to strength.