ZZZZ describes itself as a Tim Burton soundtrack on speed. Thats fitting; the Eastern European rhythms, sax riffs and hushed, conspiratorial vocals of this four-piece Chicago band are a Molotov cocktail of punk, folk and lounge that builds a story with a decadent cast of characters: In a speakeasy inhabited by spies and gypsies, couples dance the tango, a Russian in a Cossack hat holds court and some guy in a fez tries to charm a snake out of a basket. But this isnt kitsch music a la Combustible Edison. ZZZZ works from a punk foundation, with an experienced lineup of singer-saxophonist Steve Sostak and bassist John Brady (both formerly of Sweep the Leg Johnny and Swing Kids) and drummer Greg Sharp of Tekulvi, complemented by classically trained pianist Ellen Bunch, who also adds a cabaret huskiness to the vocals. Palm Reader opens with a punchAssassination Polka, in which Sostaks high-pitched and high-strung voice spars with Bunchs lush alto. The controlled chaos doesnt relent over the next seven tracks, like on 2nd Hand Smoke, which sounds like some kind of video game chase sequence, or the twisted music box of Bandit King and Queen. ZZZZs punk viciousness lets it keep the swing without falling into squeaky-clean Squirrel Nut Zippers territory.
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Shannon Sutlief