When one thinks of math rock, one tends to imagine carefully arranged, exquisitely performed, and impenetrably dense songs, that are equal parts rock ‘n’ roll and quadratic equation. And while this may be the case with most math rock bands out there, Vancouver’s own Zoo Strategies have their own approach.
Made up of members from Polarhorse and Yes Bear, Zoo Strategies embrace math rock’s irregular time signatures, unyielding melodic instrumentation, and limited reliance on vocals, yet adopt their own short-form, seemingly laid back approach to songwriting.
Steadily churning out EPs — Separation being their third in two years — Zoo Strategies opt for a handful of short, and powerful glimpses into their own brand of math rock.
With a runtime of just under nine minutes, this EP doesn’t waste any time, despite the first track. At a sparse 28 seconds long, this title track starts in silence, and stays there. Only the slight sound of wind can be heard before pure silence falls again. A tone is set, to which the rest of the EP should be listened — calm, cold, and open. After the intro track, the EP bursts into life.
“Actual Birthday,” the longest song on the EP, at just under three minutes, begins with relentless stop-and-start bass and drum in tandem. After a few bars, the full band kicks in, with light guitar lines and an easier feel; the composition is anything but simple, though. Throughout this instrumental track, tempos change and guitar lines race between harmonizing and counteracting one another.
The songs start and end in quick succession, never dwelling on any one musical concept for long. At first listen, Separation may seem to be too short to take seriously. In actual fact, it is packed to the brim with snippets of compositional anomalies and unique phrases, that are performed just long enough to be noticed, and no longer.
Whether it be with or without vocals, every song on Separation is rich in musical dexterity and ability. However brief it may be, Zoo Strategies’ latest release is a showcase in how comfortable and accessible math rock can be.