First off, I have to say that when I first received The Zincs’ Moth and Marriage, I was struck by the title and how it seemed so Cocteau Twins-like. Of course, I didn’t for once think that the music would actually sound like that of the Twins’. After all, they may have been one of the very last originals. I shouldn’t say that. Who knows what kinds of music will be created in the times to come. Still, they didn’t sound like anyone else.
And so The Zincs’ songs do not sound like that of the Cocteau Twins, but rather like a more rural Velvet Underground. A welcome comparison anytime, as I am a great VU fan. So just think of that band’s third album’s quieter songs stretched over the length of a whole album, but with a twist of the small town and not necessarily the big city thrown in, and you begin to get an idea of what the group sounds like.
In fact, The Zincs are a group only in theory. Everything here was performed by ex-Londoner James Elkington who has since renamed himself James Zinc. He currently resides in Chicago, where that city’s very own Ohio Gold label picked him up and gave him the chance to release Moth and Marriage. Previously, Jim had played in the UK group Sophia, but here he goes at it alone, with somber and beautiful results.
“Hear what it sounds like to be lonely in a new country”, says the press info. Indeed, the sounds on this album are spare, yet heavy, like how one can feel when moving to a new place and feeling naked and burdened all at once. After the quiet opening track “I Remember”, Jim pulls out the rock and has a go at the very Lou Reed-ish “Two Patients”. “I had forgotten what it is to be scared / Are you acquainted with a lack of sensation? / And you’re responsible / And you’re overboard” growls Jim, as he vamps on two chords, only switching them out when the tension mounts to its breaking point.
Jim retreats from the rocking on the beautiful and acoustic “Never Endeavour” that whisks one away on its gliding rhythm. And on “Opening Time”, he sighs “How long had you closed your eyes? / Were they closed all the time? / There’s no need for to fear / Opening time’s nearly here”. I find that to be dryly humorous, especially in a song that lumbers along on its slow beats, trickling guitar, and sense of exhaustion. But Jim is good at conveying all these things without ever letting the music become tedious. His tunes lull you along rather than bore you. It’s an admirable accomplishment when working with an album of basically slow songs.
“X in Executor” brings back the tough rock out once more as Zinc grinds away on an angry riff. His voice is distorted and there’s an obnoxious beeping sound that pops up here and there, but it works. Jim certainly has his thumb down on what makes simple, minimalist rock great. The song reminds one not only of the VU, but also of Television with its jagged chords, bent phrasing, and a strange undercurrent of pop sensibility running all the way through. In a way, it even recalls some of the best moments of Morphine (granted, with a lead guitar that Mark Sandman’s group never entertained).
Jim even flirts with a bossa nova beat in “The Elemental” in which he also pulls out his harmonica to add to the eclectic mix. His guitar playing is impeccable. His notes, at once both clear and melodic, ringing out like a bell. For all of his own playing on this album Moth and Marriage sounds like it was created by a diverse group of musicians. A quite welcome and warm sound.
I quite like The Zincs an awful lot. It may be true that you’d have to put Moth and Marriage on when you were “in the mood” to be moody. But if that is indeed the case, then Jim Zinc has created the perfect album to feel solemn, contemplative, and yes, even tough, to. This is a work that plays out easily and embraces the listener completely every time. For all of its sobriety, Moth and Marriage is one hell of an intoxicating excursion.