Death by Chocolate: Zap the World

Matthew Chabe

Death By Chocolate

Zap the World

Label: Jetset
US Release Date: 2002-07-09
UK Release Date: 2002-05-27

Death by Chocolate is quite possibly the sweetest band in the whole world.

Wait! Don't write that last sentence off as a wholly rotten pun just yet. The fact of the matter is, Death by Chocolate's new album, Zap the World, really seems to be the cutest, most cloying thing to come out of the music scene since Imperial Teen's Seasick (1996). There's not one ounce of misanthropy, loathing or self-doubt to be found on this album. It's just not what Death by Chocolate is about. It's like Debbie Reynolds renounced at an early age the few vices human nature gave her, then signed up to lead Peter, Paul and Mary in a more pearly-toothed direction than either institution could have achieved on its own.

It's cute, to be sure. But it's not cute like cuddly-pink-teddy-bear cute. It's more like cute in the way a vintage Brady Bunch lunchbox today is cute, or like watching videos of your parents getting "wild" at a sock hop is cute. The question here is, is anyone today really ready for a band that's more dimple-cheeked than any conceivable pre-fab teen band, past or present, could ever hope to be?

Led by English teenager/singer/songwriter Angela Faye Tillet, Death by Chocolate combines innocent grade-school poetic meanderings, a lyrical textbook of overlooked 1960s English culture, and swanky Austin-Powers-style lounge music to create what sounds like the soundtrack to a period film made years after the fact. However, it doesn't so much poke fun at the era of mods and paisley as poke it in the ribs and say, "Eh, jolly good time, the 1960s, wot wot?" "Day Out", the first real "song" of the album -- more on that later -- starts off with a plinking keyboard riff before Tillet's perfectly tender Brit accent comes in whispering and modal "doo-doo-doohs" play in the background. "While I'm Still Young" is an obscure cover from the soundtrack of the somewhat-cultish '60s English hep-girl film Smashing Time. "El Graphic" could easily be found on a film score of its own, a sprawling, feel-good instrumental punctuated by male vocals "bah-bah-bah-ing" in signature '60s fashion. "Artplay", another extended instrumental, goes on in jazz-like fashion with shimmering cymbals and psychedelic guitars humming and skittering over the top. And the title track, "Zap the World", covers a song by Sid and Marty Kroft's infamous Witchiepoo, a character from the H.R. Pufnstuf children's television series. (As an aside, it is strongly suggested the two versions be compared for maximum effect.)

And well, that pretty much wraps up what could be considered the actual "songs" on Zap the World.

Sorry to disappoint anyone who still thought we were still talking about a conventional album here. Most of Zap the World is made up of observant little interludes and sublimely cranial, seemingly spontaneous poetry.

The album begins, for instance, with a faux-commercial for Vox brand wah-wah guitar pedals ("Vox Wah Wah"), where Death by Chocolate demonstrates the virtues of this "new" technology ("You can even make your guitar sound like a sitar") and takes the opportunity to drop the names of "contemporary" bands like the Animals, Herman's Hermits, and Strawberry Alarm Clock. On "Bibi Gin", Tillet recites her shopping list ("Orange juice / Dozen eggs / Four green baubles / Dye (black) / etc.") for two minutes over the riffing of her bandmates. "A B & C Part Two" is a reprise of -- you guessed it -- "A B & C" from their self-titled debut, wherein Tillet free-associates the letters of the alphabet, A through Z and almost all the way through again ("D is for Dilemma, a choice between two or more unwelcome alternatives / I is for 'I Love You, Alice B. Toklas', a hilarious sixties film about the dangers of marijuana starring Peter Sellers"). And every third track or so, Tillet plainly states to the listener one of her favorite things, ranging from cereal to clothing.

If Salvador Dali and the above-mentioned H.R. Pufnstuf crew were to stage a poetry reading, Death by Chocolate would be the result. The album's great to listen to, and there's scads of potential lying in wait for the band. But despite the band's supremely unique bent and experimental arch, the product's too silly to be considered avant garde, even by '60s standards. On the other hand, it's too highbrow to be considered pop, even by modern rock standards (read Radiohead, Elbow, etc.). It's almost the Death by Chocolate paradox: can a band be so completely and utterly original that they alienate their listener, not to the point of dislike, but to the point of indifference? This one's got to be saved for mindless car trips or at-home busy work. Zap the World is a perfect album for a quick sucrose rush, but you have to watch out -- the sweetness can be overwhelming.





The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.