Various Artists, ZZK Sound Volume 3

Published on September 13th, 2013 in: Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By Chelsea Spear

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When I got a copy of ZZK Sound to review, I felt pulled in opposite directions. Many of the Latin alternative blogs and podcasts from which I get the latest music news cite the Argentine label ZZK Records as an innovative new label that marries the traditional folk idiom cumbia to more contemporary forms of music, particularly EDM. ZZK’s adventurous perspective piqued my interest, but their concentration in dance music gave me pause. I don’t go to the clubs enough to hear dance music the way it was meant to be heard, and if you asked me to tell you what EDM sounded like, I’d throw out the following words: amelodic, beat-heavy, high-endy, compressed production, “bricked” sound.

The first time I listened to ZZK Sound, it didn’t quite adhere to this description. The first few tracks had the shaky, trebly sound of video game soundtracks. The wobbly bass sounded like something out of a brostep mix, and the distinctively lolloping cumbia beat almost sounded like it got lost in the mix. Even with those considerations, though, the mixes sounded sparer and less dense than much of the dance music I’d previously heard. That spare quality gave me a greater appreciation for the way the different parts of the mix fit together. The arrangements sounded like the musical equivalent of a really good Tetris game, with all the parts interlocking satisfyingly.

As the album progressed, ZZK’s commitment to both tradition and innovation became clearer. While the songs frequently started with blippy riffs and were held together by a patchwork of electronic textures, many of them were driven by what sounded like a live drumbeat. The occasional imperfections that only a live percussionist can create gave the songs an engagingly human quality. The interplay among the squeezebox, xylophone, and keyboard parts on Nate Mars’s “Ziraffa” made it one of my favorite tracks on the album.

A pair of tracks featuring vocalists appears towards the end of the album. The standout for me was “Tuve Que Quemar”, which features MC Sara Hebe, one of the few female artists signed to ZZK. Hebe’s tongue-twisting verses showed off her rapid-fire flow, and her formidable personality drove the track.

ZZK Sound showcases the kaleidoscopic range of what this label has accomplished so far. It also serves as a musical buffet for the uninitiated, allowing new listeners sonic nibbles of their most interesting artists. May this album serve as a starting point for the similarly uninitiated to further explore some really interesting new artists.

ZZK Sound Volume 3 was released on July 1 through Waxploitation/ZZK Records.

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