[Bad Elephant Music, 2020]
Intro: Dimitris Kaltsas
Translation: Alexandros Mantas, Dimitris Kaltsas
Zopp is the creative vehicle of multi-instrumentalist Ryan Stevenson who primarily composes music for documentaries. The concept of Zopp turned up in 2010 and their debut album came out this year with Andrea Moneta (drums, percussion, sound engineering and also a member of the Italian neo-proggers Leviathan) as his partner. The rest of the musicians are Andy Tillison (keyboards, effects, sound-engineering, co-producer, mastering – also member of The Tangent), Caroline Joy Clarke (vocals), Mike Benson (saxophone) and Theo Travis (flute – now member of Soft Machine).
Zopp describe their music on their Facebook page as “epic fuzz organ driven prog / jazz / electronic rock music with a slice of lemon”. If anything, this sounds interesting.
A testimony that Canterbury sound is timeless
It has been observed that the revival of progressive rock is based on three pillars. The first one refers to the bands that replicate the past by adopting the appropriate aesthetic and style. They bet on nostalgia and romanticism and they aim for the immediate reception of the audience, but they fail to come up with a sound of their own. The second taps into the talent and the improvisational skills of the musicians who compose loose musical structures, blend assorted genres and intend to capture the listener from the get-go before the latter even begins to classify. Therefore, they get a sense of resourcefulness and originality. Finally, there is a third option which is the attempt to adapt the past to present through modern productions, fresh approaches and dynamics minimally accentuated. Zopp are assessed to belong in the third category.
The whole venture is based on the talent and compositional prolificacy of the multi-instrumentalist Ryan Stevenson who plays all the bass and guitar parts, aside the keyboard ones. Ηis main inspiration becomes evident right from the very first seconds and it is none other than Dave Stewart – undoubtedly one of the most underrated musicians of his generation – and this is to Stevenson’s credit. The nature of the music nods to Egg, the early National Health (as a septet) while there are also dashes of Gilgamesh. The compositions are flawless, structurally-wise, free of polyrhythmic bouts, but reasonably developed and loaded with atmosphere. Naturally this leaves no room for things to intervene and as a result the element of surprise is quite limited. Their artistic intention is clear and respectable. They put the emphasis on passages full of sentiments through magnificent chord progressions and wondrous themes. The modern approach results in balanced dynamics and thus maintaining a mature symmetry. Very important is the contribution of Andrea Moneta with his meaningful playing on the drums, of Mike Benson and Theo Travis on the wind instruments and of Caroline Joy Clarke who brings to mind Barbara Gaskin with her wonderful vocal melodies. The task of production is taken over by Stevenson himself and he does a great job which is reflected in the marvelous harmonization of the layers, especially the keyboard ones, which are shared occasionally between him and Andy Tillison (also co-producer). The total running time of the album is the required and the nine compositions that make the whole of it could well be a unified suite.
The Canterbury sound with its peculiarities and its phlegmatic idiosyncrasy is even to this day an inexhaustible source with deep roots in the past and, fortunately, with its gaze towards the future. Applying and adapting it to modern forms is paramount and it is deemed as successful so far and this is what the fans of the genre desire. Stevenson seems to possess the tools, the enthusiasm and the zeal and its musical DNA bears the school we speak of. It is a remarkable album and one of the best of 2020 up to now. If we must point out some songs, then V and Being and Time are probably the summits. My view is that multiple listens will result in getting under the skin of the average prog rock fan and it will be revisited time and time again for further listens, appreciation and love. We look forward to just as good – or even better- releases of similar mindset and sensibility from Ryan and his bandmates.
8.5 / 10
The music of Zopp is based on the characteristic 70s Canterbury sound with apparent avant-prog elements and a concrete experimental mood. Before listening to a single note, the album cover gives away the content. The teapot that transforms into a scorpion refers without a lot of imagination to Flying Teapot by Gong (1973) and Elton Dean’s solo album (1971), respectively. Perhaps the same goes for the band’s name which brings the 70s Belgian band Pazop to mind, maybe not necessarily, but this is hardly important.
What is essential is that in Stevenson’s music three basic elements are combined. The basis is the typical Canterbury sound and references to several bands of that scene, e.g. Egg, Hatfield and the North and Gilgamesh are evident. However, the album exudes a limitedly vintage air and sounds fresh and contemporary. This is mainly due to the other two ingredients, the jazzy avant-garde transcendence and neo-classicism, elements that add a very melodic and pompous edge in a smooth or even ambient environment, with peaks that jump out of the exceptional flow of the nine tracks.
Even though Zopp’s debut is addressed to a subset of progressive rock listeners, this is irrelevant to Stevenson’s undoubted success.
8 / 10