Zapoppin' is the first band I've encountered in my 12-year-and-counting reviewing career to dub themselves skiffle in a serious fashion. While some of you may have never even heard of that genre before, anyone who has done serious reading on The Beatles knows that they came up in the 1950's U.K. revival of the genre--originally used to describe homemade "jug band" music in the 1920s U.S.--and all but Ringo played in a Lonnie Donegan-inspired skiffle group called The Quarrymen as teens.
Skiffle music was originally based in early American jazz, blues and folk, revved up a tad and played on homemade or cheaply-obtained instruments. These three kids from Falmouth, a small town on the southernmost peninsula of England, take this aesthetic to heart (which is already kinda punk, right?) and punk it up further. Scrappy drums along with banjo and harmonium driven through guitar amps, jamming together like some Tom Waits creation on crack instead of booze. Well, maybe both.
"Calves" hits you in the face right off, with a quick banjo walk down to punk drums and yelped vocals. It's a minute and 22 seconds. "The Joneses" is one of my favorites here, starting with Phantom-of-the-Opera style evil organ dissonance. A tight swing comes in and a crazily-strummed banjo solo enters later. "Regardez Le Chien" is a welcome break, and while it's only three songs in, brings it down to roomy, pretty piano and dramatic, cryptic lines like "Now admire my cash to shit machine" and ending by with "Look at the dog" like 100 times until his head nearly explodes. "The Lurch I Left You In" gets a little bit soul, at least as much as these guys could. It lays into a 6/8 groove powered by the harmonium and honestly sounds like something Nick Thorburn (Unicorns, Islands) could have written, but then it busts into 4/4 and gets a little Modest Mouse-ish dancey. Closing this "mini LP" (10 songs in 20 minutes) is perhaps the most "Tom Waits": Harmonium-driven slow groove with mallets on the toms, thundering along underneath alternating low chant-like vocals and dramatic howls.
These guys are on to something here, and there is no doubt they are occupying their own space in the independent musical universe right now. This is some of the most left-field stuff I've been sent to review in a long time, and I mean left-field in a good way. That is not to say I have no criticisms of the record. For one, they need a washtub or tea chest bassist! The record lacks any low end whatsoever, and while it helps them to sound ragtag and crazy, it is all just too tinny. "Duck! (iPhone Version)" seems like an odd inclusion. It's likely intentionally not recorded properly, the iPhone recording acting as a modern take on the lofi indie of the early 90s, with our smartphones replacing the cassette boombox. Not sure how I feel about it though, I go back and forth on liking the concept of it.
Zapoppin' is as unique a group I've ever heard, and a great way to mix up my usual poppy indie and shoegaze fare I usually gravitate towards in the lazy and sunny summer months. But these guys don't get a whole lot of sun in England, so I suppose they stay inside and get weird. Modern punk skiffle? Ok guys, I'm in.