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Xe Dustin Krcatovich , January 10th, 2015 15:32

There is not a damn thing wrong with the free-wheeling basement exploration that makes up a healthy chunk of vernacular experimental music, a fact to which any truly dedicated gnarler from Detroit to Kyoto will attest. People often forget that making music is supposed to be fun; the frequent informalism of noise, in its myriad forms, can (and should) be a healthy reminder of as much. It's ironic to me, then, that the established majority opinion is that most aut sound voyages are the height of self-important twaddle, since the most abandon and ego-breakdown I've experienced in my adult life has been at shows by musicians who were unafraid to howl at the moon.

All that said, there is something to be said for those with the focus to make an honest-to-goodness mission and/or career out of busting down the walls of the aforementioned basement, not to mention any other walls standing in the way. On their new album Xe, Brooklyn's Zs equip themselves to do just that: the trio have cast themselves as neo-prog howlers, pushing the lines dividing rubbery Zorn-damaged skronk, vintage Fort Thunder skree, post-hardcore freakery, and deep noise maw to their breaking points. Saxophonist/bandleader/founder Sam Hillmer, along with guitarist Patrick Higgins and percussionist Greg Fox (Liturgy, Guardian Alien, Man Forever), hones the group's attack on Xe into something truly individual, if not unprecedented, while simultaneously making an album with just enough rock kicks to frame its flights of fancy.

Did I mention it was recorded in a single live studio take? Did I also mention that, given the results, that's kinda nuts; a technical feat, even?

Zs have been criticised in the past for being "too avant garde" by no less (or more) than radio host/human offal Howard Stern. "All press is good press", I suppose, but it's worth saying that that warning only applies to the lame and tasteless: Xe is howling, careening stuff, to be sure, but there's plenty of easy action onto which one might glom. Album opener 'The Future Of Royalty' rolls out with an insistent, clap-heavy skitter which brings to mind MIA's drum machine as reprogrammed by Daniel Menche, before throbbing into a sax groove that would make Moon Hooch wet their unflattering pants; later on, 'Corps' wraps itself into a tangle of martial drums and spidery surf guitar cribbed carefully from the Henry Cow playbook. These tracks are debatably the most accessible, but their earworms serve to draw you further into the album's depths.

Xe's slippery moves might not set Zs on a path to your average teen or idiot Howard Stern fan's iPod, but it is a deft and focused work, demanding its rightful place on college radio and the blogosphere. It's only the outer edge of the "avant garde" (a term I'd generally prefer to avoid, given a) its dedication to historical linearity, b) its history as military jargon, and c) its general self-congratulatory lameness) if you draw your line at the new Flying Lotus record. For the rest of us, Xe has plenty to offer. To wit: fuck Howard Stern and the horse he rode in on.