At the turn of the millennium I discovered some musical stardust; in a field, in Wales. A friend of mine was going to the Eisteddfod in Denbigh, a place otherwise known locally but never internationally, and most certainly never politically correctly, for it’s now abandoned ‘mental’ hospital. Having never crossed the Druid threshold before, partly because I am only a very partially bi-lingual Welshman (even in Wales the myths abound of “I walked into a pub and they all started talking Welsh” – of course they did, it’s fucking Wales!) and partly because I never knew there was a Maes B stage for Welsh bands to do their stwff. Modern Welsh culture was more my thing, but I suppose I was a little intimidated, especially linguistically once I had moved beyond “Da Iawn diolch”. I needn’t have been. I was in excellent company and my host with the most was particularly enthusiastic about one particular band playing that night.
The very young Welsh crowd were positively partisan (is there any other type of Welsh crowd?) towards every artist that arrived to loosen their lugholes. When Zabrinski ambled on I was surprised by their youth, and save for the odd Adidas top, they looked like they had just stepped in from working the farms. Then they played. The sound they mustered was one of sonic wonder. The songs were crafted and often built into a cascading crescendo of sounds from the ether. As the final musical wisp slipped away I was ruing the fact that a 24 hr Tower Records had yet to emerge in Denbigh. Mental, that.
Ankst the record label, as always was the saviour. They and Cob Records in Bangor were responsible for alerting many a music fan (John Peel included) to the fact that great sounds were being sculpted up and down the rugged landscape of the country. The legendary label of quality Welsh music, as opposed to any old music that happened to be Welsh, had put out Zabrinski‘s Yeti album and so not long after having seen them, it thankfully found a way into my head permanently. The opening fiery, frantic throb of Mishi Brai and it’s title repetition sounded like a description of my head. To these ears “mushy, mushy brain, mushy brain,mushy brain she said” sounded like an apt representation of the effect Zabrinski were having on me. The album is full of wonderful songs delivered in a variety of vocal styles. There are sounds that arrive from nowhere, disappear, and are then replaced by something equally mysterious. Yes, it’s one of those albums; creativity and thought flooding out of saturated speakers. Slow sleepy lulls are battered aside by spiky, thrashing guitars not unlike Giant Steps era Boo Radleys, whilst the gentlest of melodies just build and build until they can contain themselves no longer. With every song there is a sense of anticipation, where a slow build sees you wonder “Just where is this going to go?” and then witness that the avenues these songs explore are infinite and rewarding. In Freedom of the Hiway they have a bona fide stonker of a song, with Matthew Durbridge‘s vocals echoing the boyish vulnerability of Bernard Sumner‘s more sensitive moments, whilst the euphoric, chiming overture overpowers the melancholic lyrics gloriously.
Within a year, Zabrinski had followed up Yeti with Koala Ko-ordination, and everything is intact. The wide eyed exploratory nature that rummaged around Yeti finding delight upon delight, is cranked up, see no further than when the stoned, sunny stroll of the title track merges into the astonishingly pretty Switzerland. Some of the imaginative effects in the latter just make the listener wonder how they had the idea to put that particular sound right there? The Augustus Pablo dub lilt of Pan Central makes way for a drum ‘n’ bass track whilst Black Forest Science Friction is just awash with sound and is one of only two or so songs you can sample from the Zabrinski ouvre on YouTube and only hints and the creativity of their sound.
The closing Release the Hounds has a laid back Groove Armada/Air vibe about it and a quite jaw dropping hypnotic outro, but what ever styles and sounds Zabrinski explore they seem to become theirs due to the magic of further experimentation.
Zabrinski‘s third and final release was Ill Gotten Game and it has, and always will be, one of my favourite albums. The title track (Part 1) is as beautiful and gentle an album opener that you could dream of, with lush backing vocals and stray sounds filling the first part, before (Part 2) kicks at the door demanding to be heard. Feeding on our Filth is perhaps the most conventional song here, as it rumbles towards the approaching menacing guitars with a verse and chorus that are equally memorable, and is practically the only other Zabrinski video available online. It doesn’t begin to hint at the musical possibilities mined elsewhere on this album, but it’s all we got I am afraid.
Possibilities being mined is what we get on GNVQ which is a gorgeously crafted song that offers musical gifts that are just what you always wanted. It makes me smile (no mean feat).
Executive Decision was the first track of the E.P. released to warn us of the forthcoming album, and it’s a builder with a catchy chorus to boot. It is followed by the album’s centrepiece, the presciently titled Mother My Faith In Human Kindness Has Somewhat Faded Recently, where vocals/chimes/guitars (forwards and backwards)/keyboards/brass all meld into something warm and wonderful. Hit the Rez containing the magnificent line “I heard someone say that humans make monkeys look good” ambles along like a country lane drive before it hits a traffic jam and everyone gets out of their car and has a bit of a rave. Seal My Cave contains quite possibly the warmest ,softest glow and hug of a chorus these ears have heard, delivered in-between a sound not unlike Mercury Rev at their finest. It’s a beauty. Because they toured with them and the fact that they are Welsh, the Super Furry Animals seemed to become a lazy comparison as Zabrinski became more well known. You can hear a similarity between the two bands in the intro to the eigth track on Ill Gotten Game, but then all comparisons fly out of the window as the mighty SFA went one way with their stomping Lazerbeam and Zabrinski went to investigate Society and Stuff on an pounding instrumental tip. Go Clone Alone is the final epic space ride that closes the chapters on Zabrinski.
What happened on that final, fateful exploration? Are the still out there? What did they see? Did they come back? Will they come back?
The real reason they disappeared was that their music was not being appreciated, and I still don’t understand why. So maybe now is the time to do yourself a favour. The three Ankst albums are available here:
Get them; listen to them, be astonished, and then curse the British listening public for being twp.
Oh, and by the way, the name Zabrinski was taken from the film Zabrinskie Point but spelt wrong. So there you go.