Album Reviews: Palm Reader by ZZZZChicago’s ZZZZ lays their cards on the table immediately on Palm Reader, opening with the frantic "Assassination Polka," a sax-driven dance number with a herky-jerky guy-and-gal vocals. What follows is an always energetic, often entertaining, and sometimes aimless album that references the likes of Exene Cervenka and The Arcade Fire, while also taking time to pose the question, "What ever became of the Squirrel Nut Zippers?"
The oddball cabaret of Palm Reader finds its own niche while also sounding of-the-moment. Along with Of Montreal and Saturday Looks Good To Me, ZZZZ marks a substantive and exciting evolution for its label, Polyvinyl. As for the strange name, it’s more akin to electrical shock than sleep inducement. But don’t come looking for guitars; they’re shelved in favor of Steve Sostak’s alto sax and Ellen Bunch’s electric keys. Sostak and Bunch are also the vocalists, and while neither is an especially strong singer, they can be quite compelling when together and agitated ("2nd Hand Smoke," "Assassination Polka"). Their shtick is enigmatic instead of kitschy, and theatrical enough to call into question to what degree Sostak and Bunch are playing characters.
Like the bands they’ve shared bills with (Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, etc.), ZZZZ won’t be for everyone, and their chaotic arrangements can be overstimulated ("Snowball"). But the only uninspired patches of Palm Reader are the result of relaxation. "Railroaded" threatens to derail the madcap momentum by settling into a jazzy mid-tempo groove. But even then, the quartet eschews song structure with all the glee of math-rockers -- just one more influence they welcome under their gypsy tent. - Adam McKibbin
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