Tall men do have feelings, so luckily ZKPR put out such a good album that I don’t have to hurt any of their tall feelings with this review. Chicago’s ZKPR (which is short for Zookeeper) released their debut album, Tall Men with Feelings, on December 9th. This is a band that puts just the right amount of thought into names. Their band name comes from the fact that nearly all of their collective influences/favorite bands were named for animals (Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear, for example.) Their album title came about while they were still trying to come up with a band name and friends pointed out that the members were all tall and one looked like Mendez (Pornstache) from Orange Is the New Black; as any OITNB viewer knows, Mendez is not so tall that his feelings don’t get hurt, so the album name was adapted from a Mendez quote. ZKPR has been around for a little over a year and is made up of Rick Schulde (the one with the Mendez-like ‘stache,) Matt Kaufman, Ido Moskovich, and Zane Muller. They gained fans by performing live, then turned to Kickstarter to fund their debut album with a goal of raising enough to professionally produce four tracks. In an excellent sign from those who have followed them, they surpassed their goal and raised enough to produce their six strongest songs, which became this EP. The album was produced by Neil Strauch, who has worked with Iron and Wine, The National, and Andrew Bird.
ZKPR’s songs have some amazing guitar hooks and are packed with many different guitar textures. It can be twitchy, smooth, jangly – sometimes all within the same song. “Ghost” starts with slow, smooth guitar and vocal harmonies that bring Crosby, Stills & Nash to mind, then morphs into a frenetic tune toward the end that sounds like Two Door Cinema Club. The harmonies are another strong point, they take the vocals to a level not heard on many of their influences. The band has many similarities to Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, Two Door Cinema Club, and maybe even a little subdued Bloc Party, but none of those bands have the vocals harmonies of ZKPR. We’re talking a little CSN and a little touch of the Beach Boys, but over indie rock.
It’s easy to overlook the lyrics when there is so much going on with the guitar and vocal harmonies, but they’ve got some deep stuff on “Frosted Glass.” The song opens with “Don’t be so sure / that your corporeal form is so secure / or that your senses are better windows than doors / that your beliefs are really yours.” Sure, it’s not all philosophical: “Otter Rock Cafe” is about getting out of town and going to the Otter Rock Cafe (an actual cafe with a pretty view in California.) There are lines about getting older, like when they say that the keg is dry and the party is over at age 25 in “Lowlands” and a chorus about how one wouldn’t have compromised or gotten in line when one was younger in “Sierra Nevada.”
The band has described their music as danceable. That is more accurate on some songs than others. “When I’m Bored” is a toe-tapper with this big, driving beat. That beat makes it hard to listen to it while sitting still. “Frosted Glass” is another that gets the toe going. My aunt believes that you can dance to anything, a theory she once attempted to prove by creating an interpretive dance to Rage Against the Machine after consuming some wine. Following that idea, you could dance to any of these songs, but some are better appreciated for their qualities other than “danceability.” “Sierra Nevada” doesn’t have the strong drum beat of many of the other tracks, though it is a compelling listen. The first two-thirds of “Ghost” have a surging, wave-like sound that is too relaxed to dance to, but then breaks into that danceable TDCC-like third.
This is a very strong first release from ZKPR. They currently have regular jobs, but if this debut and the support they received over Kickstarter are any indication, they may soon be able to take to the road as full-time musicians. Unfortunately, if you do jump on this bandwagon, you’re too late to earn such Kickstarter prizes as having the band perform in your living room (as eight people did,) or shaving off Rick’s mustache (as no one did, because apparently the rest of the world is more comfortable with mustaches than I am.) Still, you’ll get to enjoy a strong EP with lots of guitar textures, vocal harmonies, and strong beats (and lots of mustache.)