First I think: “National Health bootleg”… but then I change my mind: “No that can’t be, the sound quality is too good.” Then I look in my iTunes library and see that I am accidentally listening to a promo copy of a new album I had not gotten around to playing because I suffer from an untrendy aversion to the MP3 format.
But if it takes inadvertently being exposed to lossy compression in order to discover music that is this good, then so be it.
If you love Canterbury music like I do, then you will immediately warm to the self-titled Zopp debut album, which not only includes contributions from people like Theo Travis but also unashamedly state its Kentish intent from the get-go.
But simultaneously, you may also be protective of that scene and ready to violently dismiss stuff that emulates the surface but fails to provide real substance.
Recently, it seems like only Italian bands really nail this; Homunculus Res, Alco Frisbass and Brežnev Fun Club (although they admittedly aim for a different genre).
However, Zopp’s debut ticks the right boxes in the right way. While sounding very familiar, it remains in control of its own destiny and stands tall with its own compositions.
Zopp is essentially the creation of Nottingham twentysomething Ryan Stevenson. Or should I say, it is my understanding that he was that when he started out on a journey towards this debut album that would last over a decade. Much happened along the way; Ryan Stevenson became an award winning composer of documentary film scores, and others joined the Zopp project, such as the aforementioned Travis, but also drummer Andrea Moneta from Italian band Leviathan and The Tangent’s Andy Tillison.
As a result, this sounds like a real band effort. Maybe it really is; I have no idea if they are actually playing together or if this is the result of files having been sent back and forth over the internet. But the point is that it sounds organic, and it has that hallmark Canterbury lightness of touch and coherence that probably is related to being well-rehearsed.
It really is just beautiful.
And did I say I was Swedish? Hope that won’t spoil it all, but how can I not love a Canterbury album with such a reference? The first track, ‘Swedish Love’, is a well-chosen opener, as it is possibly the most deferential track of them all. It is pretty smart to start with such a short and whimsical thing that lures me in – and then to pull my ears further in with the longer and more complex ‘Before The Light’.
The music then gradually moves towards songs that while never straying extremely far from their influences nevertheless offer up more individualistic perspectives; both in the sense that they add other musical components, but also in the sense that they are obviously flowing from the pen of a single person. Ryan Stevenson’s compositions have a slightly solitary and introverted feel to them, and as a consequence the pace is sometimes slower than what you might expect after the first few tracks.
At times I am reminded a bit of Karda Estra, there is a similar earnestness and sense of discovery here.
One can only hope that Ryan Stevenson doesn’t get too influenced by all the attention among his elder peers that this album is certain to earn him, and that he continues down his own path. With this album, he has already made an indelible mark, and hopefully that sets him free to explore rather than suffer under the burden of trying to repeat this success.
An instant classic – if something that has been ten years in the making can be called instant!