It's not even midway through 2003, and we've already been subjected to one of the most annoying, yet oddly compelling at the same time, albums of the year. New York underground art rock outfit Ex Models have returned with their second full-length release, entitled Zoo Psychology, the follow-up to 2001's Other Mathematics, and the new album is more of the same sonic onslaught that people have come to expect from these guys. If you're into shrill, twitchy math rock, then this is the album for you. If not, then run away. Run away now.
With a running time of only 20 minutes, and consisting of 15 tracks, songs go so fast, frantically segueing into one another, that it takes about 25 listens to the record to get a real handle on each song, and when you do, you don't know how to react, the album is that impenetrable. You hear screaming, but the only comprehensible phrases you can make out have something to do with "pink noise" and zoo animals. So what do Ex Models sound like? Well, if you can imagine a horny chimp on amphetamines screeching into a microphone while The Boredoms play Fugazi as if performed by Captain Beefheart's Magic Band, while also on amphetamines, you'd be on the right track. However, as maddening as Zoo Psychology can be, there's no denying that it manages to kick your ass like few albums are capable of doing.
The fact is, this band is awfully good at being annoying. Singer/guitarist Shahin Motia has a grating scream like no one else in rock today, and is either screeching in a falsetto voice or carrying on in an even higher falsetto. Meanwhile, Shah Motia does some very nasty things to that guitar of his, creating angular note after angular note, while bassist Zacho and drummer Jakey provide an extremely taut rhythm section, capable of some incredible time signature shifts, while still evoking the simpler sounds of punk legends Minor Threat and Gang of Four. Producer Martin Bisi takes all this noise and creates a sound so abrasive, it's comparable to the work of Steve Albini and, to a lesser extent, Ross Robinson.
"Fuck to the Music" begins with 30 seconds of some of the ugliest sounds one can wrench out of a guitar, before Shahin comes in and screams a nonsensical line, concluding with, "Everybody dance to the music!" as the band careens like a train wreck, speeding up to the point of insanity, and coming to a crashing halt in a sea of cymbal crashes and feedback. Anyone attempting to dance to this music might be seriously endangering their lives. After a full minute intro of repeated, rather uncomfortable sounding guitar notes (aptly titled "Intro"), you're waiting for the other show to drop, and when it does, in the form of "Pink Noise", it's like hearing the house band from Hell. The song stops and starts, Jakey manages to keep some kind of a beat, and Shahin shrieks, "The pretty pretty pink noise/Will set you on FI-YAH!" It's oddly catchy. As is "Zoo Love", which sounds like mental asylum escapees attempting to play funk. "Sex Automata" is a noisy hybrid of Devo and Shellac, while "Rip This Joint" is the furthest thing you can get from the Stones' song of the same name, the band's own twisted version of a punk rave-up, a 23 second blast of Beefheart-inspired cadence and noise.
The album is so short, but the insanity seems never-ending, as tracks like "Brand New Panties", "Hey Boner", "Kool Killer", and the excellent closing song "Three Weeks" careen one after the other. The best way to appreciate Zoo Psychology is to play one track, hit the repeat button on your CD player, and let your ears absorb the cacophony. Once you do that, you get a handle on each track, and if you haven't been evicted and your family hasn't disowned you after all the racket, listening to the album in its entirety becomes easier to digest, and you soon realize that, as annoying as Ex Models are, this CD is strangely fun. Ex Models are very similar to Beefheart's aforementioned Magic Band, but instead of the latter's turning blues and jazz on its ear, the band takes punk and new wave, and plays it in a way that you've never heard before.