Synth Album Review: "Z as in Zebra" by Zalatan
Z as in Zebra by ZALATAN combines unique synth sounds with Erica Zalatan’s excellent guitar playing and thoughtful compositions that explore many different sonic textures. This is music that is rich, layered and emotive as it moves through many moods and sensations.
On this album, we get to hear from another member of the #synthfam who also has wicked guitar chops. She can shred with the best, but she also brings some gentle glow and flow to the guitar work on the album. Her ability to emote through the instrument is clear and she explores a wide variety of tones in different pieces on the album. Her guitar playing is one of the central pillars of the quality of this recording.
Some synth artists have a real facility with creating sonic layers in their music. Erica Zalatan definitely does this on Z as in Zebra as she combines synths that are sometimes smooth, sometimes edgy and sometimes glowing with deep wells of bass (and bass guitar), percussion with a heartbeat and her intricate guitar playing. The way all of these elements combine produces music with depth and richness.
The way in which Erica Zalatan explores emotional territory is also interesting on Z is for Zebra. She is able to get a lot of feeling into the music through her writing and playing. Sometimes there’s a feeling of powerful uplift, other times there’s an ease to the music that soothes as one listens. Any emotion she explores is well defined and clear in the music.
There’s also a good level of clarity to the production on the album. The layered, intertwining nature of the different elements on this album means that if the production wasn’t handled well, the end result could’ve been muddy but it isn’t. It’s sharp and clear so that all of the parts blend but no one part overwhelms the others. I think it’s a strong reason for the album's impact on me.
My Favourite Tracks
“Z- Files” is defined by the soaring guitar playing a triumphant solo that dances and glows, whirling up above the bass and drums under it. I enjoy the dry, clean tones of an instrument that sounds a little like a kalimba which opens the track. Everything here is washed by the shining guitar tones and the way the track moves to a steady oscillation of rising and falling bass adds energy to the music. This is a track that makes me feel like I’m being carried on a full tide of sound. The contrasts in the track shape it nicely for me.
The title of this track “Smoove” is accurate because everything about it glides and flows. There are layers of glowing synths that drift into open space as an easy, smooth drumbeat and a moving electric bass line add structure to the music. There’s a beautiful feeling like sparkles on water coming out of the guitar and the track layers rich sounds one on the other, producing a very rounded feeling in the music. The guitar solo that shivers and moans into the track is full of skillful playing and emotion. After that blazing solo, the track glide backs into ease and float.
The feeling of deep bass throbbing out into the open space of “The Edge” set the scene for waves of that bass creating a feeling of constant motion along with a rough-edged and rapid pulse of sound over which bright arpeggios spin. As the pulses of synth sound accelerate, Erica Zalatan’s guitar leaps and flies, dancing quickly and lightly through a solo. There’s a free-wheeling energy to the guitar that lifts this track into another dimension. I am thrilled by the guitar playing on the album.
“Deep Dive” begins with addictive bouncy synths moving under a lighter, more drifting sound palette. The track has a fluid feeling to it as the long, dancing lines of sound and the bass and drums add a tidal energy to the music. When the guitar begins to soon the passion in the playing is palpable as the track moves into a rougher, more broken section with chip sounds cascading through the track. I also dug the energetic and intricate lead synth solo that leaps into the music. Once again the guitar lets loose to add depth and power to the music as the track closes on light chip sounds.
The opening guitar solo on “Grand Scheme” drew me in with its bluesy feeling that has tinges of Americana in it as it moves with laconic ease over the easy throbbing beat and glow of rising guitar notes. The second half of the track picks up energy and speed with spinning synth arpeggios that dance into the music before a second excellent guitar solo that rocks hard with a powerful sensation of uplift emanating from it. I also enjoy the way the drums thunder behind the intricate guitar work that fills the track.
Z as in Zebra is an album that showcases the musicality and talent of its creator. Erica Zalatan clearly has strong music writing and performance skills that shine through in the layered richness of the tracks and her guitar virtuosity is difficult to ignore. I am quite interested to hear what she might create in the future based on this album.