For the recording of their debut album, Symbiotic, New Zealand alt-rockers The Zoup claim to have gone on a five-year journey through sonic exploration. Listening to the LP, it sounds as if that journey has taken much longer, with the album’s roots still clearly planted in the early 2000s.
While able to creatively impress in its own right through the clever use of tempo and pacing, all the elements of alternative rock from the last decade are there: the wall-of-sound instrumental breaks, the post-hardcore breakdowns during the bridges, and the emo lyrics. Yet The Zoup are able to use these inescapable tropes of rock in ways that are subdued, subverted, and thankfully lighthearted. Symbiotic won’t floor anyone who has listened to bands like Brand New or Taking Back Sunday, but it commands attention without the self-pitying and self-importance that plagues so many other projects.
The Zoup is aware of their familiarity; the first track, “Symbiotic,” opens with the line “Building a character based on the sounds of my past.” An interesting theme is brought up—past loves forming us through symbiosis—though it only reoccurs in full focus at the end of the album. The final track, “Young and Unaware”, acknowledges the uncertain future and the need for constant adaption—a nice sentiment that seals the album’s tributary status. There are a few throwaway lines (“Am I on my own?!”), but cliché topics like loneliness and self-doubt are mostly expressed with lyricism that show considerable wisdom for a debut album.
Perhaps most in Symbiotic’s favor is how most songs begin so promptly; the album’s fat is skimmed so that the tender moments, the slow buildups and emotional peaks, feel deserved.
Sonically, there’s not much new here as far as straight up rock goes, yet each track showcases the band’s proficiency with power chords, blast-beats, choral harmonies, and so on. Catchy riffs or complex drum grooves are never beaten into the ground, and tempos and moods often switch mid-song, making for a consistently fun listen.
Perhaps most in Symbiotic’s favor is how most songs begin so promptly; the album’s fat is skimmed so that the tender moments, the slow buildups and emotional peaks, feel deserved. That being said, after multiple listens, few of the songs stuck with me, probably due to the lack of melody within the wash of guitars—if anything, the blistering drumming is the real standout.
No weak tracks stand out for me. At its worst, Symbiotic is good, if generic, rock. The Zoup wring out the most fun aspects of topics and sounds often milked for moodiness or supposed edginess. Still, I hope the promise of changing with the future made at the end of the album holds up true. I want to see where this band can go, not where we’ve all been.