Album Review: THE ZOUP – “Symbiotic”

I’m beginning to think that some of the best rock music these days is coming out of New Zealand, as here I am writing about yet another great band from that island nation at the other side of the world (I’m in Southern California).  My latest subject is The Zoup, an alternative rock band from Auckland, and their sparkling debut album Symbiotic.  As explained in the album notes, Symbiotic is “a sonic journey representing five years of musical exploration and experimentation which truly represents the collective essence of the band.”

The Zoup is comprised of Jaydn de Graaf (lead vocals, guitar), Dominic Mauger (lead guitar, keyboards), Tom Chou (bass) and Dave Johnston (drums, backing vocals).  The band’s sound is characterized by complex, multi-textured guitars over strong, rhythmic basslines and aggressive percussion, accompanied by deGraaf’s amazing vocals that swoop and soar with abandon.  The guys have been making music together for over eight years, and recorded their first self-titled EP in 2009. They continued writing songs and experimenting with their sound, and recorded several tracks in two sessions named for the locations where they took place – the Piha in 2011 and Kaipara in 2012. Three of those tracks have been remastered and are now included on Symbiotic.


The 10-track album was engineered and produced by band member/drummer Dave Johnston (who also plays drums for the band Villainy), and what a winner it is!  It opens strong with the hyperkinetic title track “Symbiotic.” Rapid-fire drums set the pace, with assertive guitars overlying buzzing basslines. The song hums along, seeming to end at 3:05, then with a touch of feedback, it revs back up to a dramatic finish. I may be totally off-base, but the lyrics seem to address the band’s connection with their past, and their desire to move on into new territory, which this album represents. “Strange how the smallest sounds always seem to trigger the memories I thought that I had lost in time.

Next up is “Shao Ten” – a standout track with such awesome guitar work, it had the hair on the back of my neck standing straight up. Distorted guitars play off frantic, jangly guitar riffs and wobbly bass, perfectly complementing de Graaf’s powerful soaring vocals. The captivating “Scheming” is one of my favorites, with blistering guitars and aggressive drums, accentuated by an abundance of crashing cymbals. The backing vocals rise and fall in a beautiful chorus, accompanied by distorted guitar.

The melodic “The Cuts and the Crime” is another strong track, and has been released as their latest single. The song speaks to the inner conflict between giving in to one’s darker desires – to “dance with the fire” – and the need to walk a straight line and behave like a good person: “In my mind/The better side of never is what keeps me in line. In my mind/I’m never gonna get it from the cuts and the crime.”  Musically, the song opens with a powerful drumbeat that propels the song forward. Complex, multi-layered stop and start guitar riffs float nicely over a powerful bassline and, as always, deGraaf’s vocals are mesmerizing.

Keeping the energy flowing, “Monuments” is a hard-driving gem with swirling guitars, heavy bass and hammering drums. deGraaf’s urgent vocals weave effortlessly through the music. The pace slows a bit with the sultry but still intense “Talking to Myself.” The killer guitars are shredded, plucked and distorted all over the place, accompanied by crashing cymbals and goosebump-inducing harmonic vocals. This song has some of the best lyrics: “Even dishonest men tell honest lies. To reset those feelings which hold special meanings will take some time.  Trusting this world it takes such arrogance.  Talking to myself is not OK.”

“Ethos” was first recorded at the Piha Sessions in 2011, and is such a good song the band decided to rework and include it on Symbiotic. On this and the following track “Colours,” we’re treated to more mind-bending guitar riffs and Johnston’s wicked drums, along with deGraaf’s beguiling vocals. I’m now certain that I’m addicted to this band’s music.

Another older song from the Kaipara Sessions included on this album is the gorgeous ballad “We Should Have Listened.”  Acoustic guitars have a starring role, giving this amazing track more of a folk-rock vibe than The Zoup’s other songs. The lyrics are compelling: “Time the oppressor waits for no man at all. Save those lucky few who hold it dearest to them.  We should have listened, but now it’s gone. We didn’t listen to what they had to say. We had our chance to change. We had our chance, we threw it all away.” Although the track has been remastered for the album, this video from the session in 2012 features the band recording the song, along with footage of them that provides a glimpse of their friendly, unassuming personalities.

The final track “Young and Unaware” is the third on Symbiotic to come from the previous sessions. It’s a great song, with thunderous shredded guitars, heavy bass and pounding drums giving it the most hard-rock sound of all the tracks on the album.

The Zoup (their name doesn’t really mean anything, according to Johnston, who said they actually saw the word on an old T-shirt belonging to their guitarist Dominic, and thought a name beginning with the last letter of the alphabet was strong) is definitely a band to follow and Symbiotic is an album worth owning.  Show them support by following on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to their YouTube channel. Stream their music on Soundcloud or Spotify, and purchase on Bandcamp or itunes.

Album Review: DarkWater -“You’re only as addicted as you’re willing to be”

I turn my Artist Spotlight back to New Zealand for a look at the outstanding alternative rock band DarkWater. They formed in 2009 as a four-person band, but are now three, with founding members Nathan Waipouri (lead guitar and vocals) and Merran Dixon (bass and backing vocals), and Ross Kilgour (drums) who joined the band in 2012.


DarkWater released their first EP in 2010, first full album in 2012, and another EP in 2014, all to critical acclaim. Their latest album – You’re only as addicted as you’re willing to be – dropped in May 2016, and it’s a stunning collection of kick-ass rock songs, many with a psychedelic vibe and featuring complex arrangements, multi-textured heavy guitar riffs, powerful drums and crashing cymbals.  Waipouri’s raw vocals call to mind Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull and – to my ears, at least – DarkWater’s music seems influenced by  Jefferson Airplane, Jethro Tull and Cream, albeit updated to today’s rock sensibilities.

The album opens strong with the superb “The Old Town of Visoki,” a sonic-boom of a track with furious guitars, accompanied by Waipouri’s raw, snarling vocals and Kilgour’s hammering drums. “A Little Time” and “Numbered” keep the energy flowing with dazzling guitar riffs, strong percussion, and more of Waipouri’s urgent vocals.

The standout track “Animal Mind” serves up more killer, multi-layered riffs, thumping bass, pulse-pounding drums, crashing cymbals, and Waipouri’s impassioned vocals – backed by Dixon’s own beguiling vocals – singing some pretty compelling lyrics:

“I sometimes sit here and wonder why I’m alive, those thoughts from a whisper, that voice from inside. No seas of confusion that set us aside, from words of the wounded sad lullaby. Hard times, no pride.”

The late-60’s psychedelic rock vibe is strongly evident in “Paradox,” “Melee,” “A Murder of Crows,” and “Caution in a Jar,” with slightly distorted but melodic guitars, and intertwining harmonic vocals.  Here’s a video of a live performance of “Caution in a Jar” at the indie underground club Lovelands last May.

“Only You” is another awesome track. It starts out with a nimble guitar riff and gentle drumbeat, then gradually builds to a bombastic climax of pummeling guitar riffs, more of Kilgour’s formidable drums, and powerful soaring vocals.  This is my favorite song on the album.

Another of my favorites is the highly melodic “Harmonic Tinker Toys,” featuring more of DarkWater’s amazing signature guitar riffs.  Holy hell, Waipouri and Dixon sure do coax some magnificent sounds from their guitars!

The remaining tracks “Astray,” “Cleverywhere,” and “Right Here” are all very good, with more of those impressive guitars, so there’s not a single forgettable or throwaway song on the album.

Follow DarkWater on Twitter and Facebook, and stream their music on Soundcloud. Their music may be purchased on Bandcamp.

Artist Spotlight – The awesome, pure rock of Poison Skies

Bands that play pure, honest and unadulterated rock seem to be an endangered species, given the near-ubiquitous use of synthesized instruments, drum beats, and hand claps in so much music these days.  Don’t get me wrong, I really like some of that music. But once in a while I just want to hear some good old honest rock and roll, but with a fresh sound. New Zealand indie rock band Poison Skies, who hail from Auckland, nicely delivers. (New Zealand seems to be a hotbed of great indie rock music, as I’m hearing of more and more bands from that Down Under country.)

The five-member band formed in 2013, and includes Nick (lead vocals, guitar), Sam (rhythm guitar and backing vocals), Paul (lead guitar and backing vocals), Jamie (bass guitar) and Carl (drums).  According to their bio on their Soundcloud page, the band members were “already linked together through previous bands, gigs and tours” and, having a strong chemistry together, they decided to join forces and Poison Skies was born.  Given their collective years of music experience and having three first-rate guitarists, the band has a high octane, hard-driving sound that’s characterized by killer guitar work and pulse-pounding drums.

Their song “Eighty Six” is a powerful indictment of the stupidity and waste of war, set to an equally powerful thumping bass line and awesome multi-layered guitar riffs that will have the hair on the back of your neck standing up straight.

“City Streets” storms out of the gate with furious guitar and rapid-fire drums, and keeps up the frenetic pace all the way to the end. These guys can play guitar!  The highly entertaining video alternates between scenes of the band performing and a stressed out businessman who dresses as a clown and performs on a city street to make people laugh.  He eventually ends up at the bar where Poison Skies is playing and joins them on stage.  I can’t emphasize enough how much I love this song and video!

The band serves up another dose of mind-bending guitar on the high-energy “Victim Of Reality.”

I’m grateful to the band’s drummer Carl, who first contacted me on Facebook and introduced me to the band, because I’m now a huge fan!  If they ever tour in Southern California, I’ll be first in line to buy a ticket to their concert. Show these guys some love and like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and subscribe to their YouTube channel. Their music is available for streaming on Spotify and Soundcloud, or purchase on itunes.