Zook – Vases

Occasionally a record comes along that immediately stops you in your tracks. Such is the case with the newest full-length from Zook, entitled Vases. The record opens with a minute long stretch of strings atop a brushed drum beat and a gentle rattling that gives way to Zook’s vocal observations – a magically delivered vibe that simultaneously straddles melancholy and optimism. Vases consistently blends together unique instrumentation throughout its runtime, making fascinating choices that never feel alien or challenging, just refreshingly effective.

For the uninitiated, album closer “Evergreen” is possibly the best place to start. Backmasked guitars warp their way into a gentle piano line before baritone vocals carry you into an unforgettably bouncy chorus. There’s a dash of jam band to the bridge and a psychedelic zone-out to the ending sprawl (remember, it is the album closer) but it’s every ounce a pop song. That blend shouldn’t work but Zook’s balanced choices become the emblematic magic of Vases. “Marmalade” presents twinkling flourishes from another planet before erupting with guitar licks Wilco would awe for. “New Jersey Frown” bounces along with horns and multitudes of layered details I haven’t even begun to fully catalog. Even with the album’s most barebones offering, “Seashell 17,” there’s a wash of subtle autoharp and electronic swirls behind Zook’s front and center vocals. Every song on the record deserves repeated, active, listening but are just as enjoyable playing in the background; familiar yet new.

Zook, aka Zach Tittel, has long been part of a scene of musicians in Nashville that helped to form this fascinating stew of sounds. Thomas Luminoso is credited as co-producer, Ash and Luca of Total Wife are thanked for recording assistance and the Zook live band has Rig B, Logan Chung and Rowen Merrill – all extremely talented folks in their own realms. None of that is to insinuate that Vases is not entirely Tittel’s creation, I’m sure he has labored over it for years. However, everyone is an expression of their experienced lives and Tittel is experiencing life with a great number of talented and interesting people. His ability to synthesize all of his influences and all of his original creativity into a fully formed record that never feels off balance is certainly worth stopping in your tracks for.