Dominion by ZoppRelease date: February 3, 2023
Label: Flat Circle Records
While I’m not an expert of the Canterbury scene, it’s always great to see some bands like Syd Arthur, and now Zopp carrying the candle by leading to the next parallel universe to see what lies ahead. The mastermind behind Zopp is none other than multi-instrumentalist Ryan Stevenson, with a little help from collaborators including The Tangent’s Andy Tillison and drummer Andrea Moneta of Leviathan.
Stevenson not only does Zopp justice, but he’s also a composer. Writing scores to documentary films including a win for Best Score in May of 2019 at the IMDb’s American Tracks Music Awards for The Perfect Gangster. Since its launch back in 2010, Zopp not only takes the underwater beauties of Canterbury, but Stravinsky and Steve Reich with a dosage of ambient music.
With their sole self-titled debut released on the Bad Elephant label released three years ago, it got amazing reviews. Now Stevenson and Montea are back in the realms once more with their latest follow-up Dominion. Released on the Flat Circle label, Dominion is in a class of its own.
Adding more of that amazing slice of the fuzz-tone organ textures in which bands like the Soft Machine, Caravan, and Supersister had used before, Zopp takes it up a notch over the wonderous beauty on the 10-minute epic ‘You’. Here, the duo brings in their magnificent telescope by sailing across the hallucinogenic oceans with some incredible psych-power in the late ‘60s.
But there’s some nods to fellow prog trios Egg and Ring Van Mobius. The Nottingham duo pay homage to masters and the newcomers with powder-kegging chorus in which Moneta hits those cymbals like crazy whilst Mike Benson’s sax improv goes into some incredible carousel structure by making the ride continue for a long, long time.
The ambient watery textures behind ‘Uppmärksamhet’ sees Zopp taking a little bit of a breather after going into heavy exercise work on the first three tracks by adding this classical orientation. It becomes a crossover between Terry Riley compositions and Robert Fripp’s Frippertronics to witness the heavy snow coming across the Malvern Hills with some Bo Hansson-like beauty.
Now we get into some crazy-wacky textures by walking into the ‘Reality Tunnels’ as Stevenson becomes a three-man band with this electric guitar, bass, and keyboards by walking into some maddening sounds of Robert Clampett and Fred Avery-era of the Looney Tunes-era in the 1940s, adding his own score to ‘Tortoise Beats Hare’, ‘Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid’, ‘Corny Concerto’, and ‘Tortoise Wins by a Hare’.
You have to love Stevenson’s approach to both Carl Stalling, Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, Raymond Scott’s ‘Powerhouse’, Frank Zappa, and the intensive heat of Mike Ratledge. I can imagine Ray watched those cartoons as a kid, being blown away by the animation, showing how much anarchy was going on during that time period and getting away with it.
And the way that Ray handles the ‘Reality Tunnels’ is startling. He adds the clock-ticking momentum, marching beats, and pure fun to make listeners keep and ear out for what he and Montea will do next.
I almost forgot to mention the hypnotic intro ‘Amor Fati’ that opens the album. You have both Sally Minnear and Caroline Joy Clarke honouring The Northettes’ (Amanda Parsons, Barbara Gaskin, and Ann Rosenthal) vocalisation by walking up these massive number of stairs which have this overture-sque melody before everything begins with the 10-minute segue.
Now we come to the end on the 14-minute grand slam ‘Toxicity’ where Zopp creates their own take of Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, but with a holy-shit-in-a-handbag spin! This is how you make the jump to light-speed as Stevenson’s vocals go through the passages of time with some arpeggiated keyboard work that resembles the first Soft Machine album and Caravan’s In the Land of Grey and Pink sessions.
And then, wah-wah’s galore! Not to mention those crazy time changes which have a flourishing arrangement, floating across the heavens before going into this mini-opera motif on the person’s day in the life routine by waking up, going to work, wanting to be free from the real world and fly across the heavens before landing back home for the weekend to get a good-night sleep.
Zopp’s Dominion is like a Looney Tunes score in disguise. They have done one hell of a job by adding enough fuel to their massive car by driving towards the finish line and honouring not just the Canterbury Scene, but coming out in full swing by kicking a huge amount of ass’ like there’s no tomorrow!