Man I wish I still dropped acid. This is what I'm thinking as I listen to, absorb, and ultimately am incinerated by Coronation Thieves, the extraordinary debut from the Cleveland-bred, Brooklyn-based avant-rock lotharios Dragons of Zynth. What drives this sudden urge to partake in recreational psychedelics I can't say; I mean, it's not like this album carries the overpowering ubiquity of Kesey-esque psychedelia, really (although that's definitely an element). More than anything, probably, what I'm reacting to here is a sound that is powerful and hypnotic, yet at the same time utterly beyond calculation. Scout's honor: On this disc, you are going to hear everything from D'Angelo and "Machine Gun"-era Hendrix to My Bloody Valentine, Prince in one of his Al Green moods, and the Clash.[more:]
Actually, even though punk and soul abound here, aesthetically Dragons of Zynth is probably a lot closer to the free jazz of Ornette Coleman and late Coltrane than anything in pop. This is no accident, by the way: The twin brothers that front the band, Aku and Akwetey O.T., studied theory with jazz saxophonist Yusef Lateef, whose "auto-physio-psychic" approach has its fingerprints all over this album. Another influence is TV on the Radio, whose own David Sitek co-produced the album. A good way to think of the relationship between these two is to imagine Dragons as the id to TV's ego -- the latter generally being more cerebral and atonal whereas Dragons of Zynth is ruthless, visceral, and melodic. Both bands incline toward the minimalist camp, but Dragons of Zynth has a special knack for pulling enormous sounds from spare arrangements. It's really quite shocking when you realize that this ferocious ocean of sound falling right on top of you is not the product of studio hokum but of basic instrumentation.
There are two songs on this album that you need to know about right away. First is the savage "Who Rize Above," which feels like a Jim Morrison seance backed by the MC5 and Motorhead. Every weapon in Dragons of Zynth's arsenal is unleashed here: Aku's raw charisma as a vocalist, J. Bizza and Autry Fulbright's bone-mulching rhythm section, and Akwetey's slithery violence on guitar, which on this song sounds like a machete brutally hacking away at the melody's flesh. The second is "Closer," which, of course, closes the album. It's essentially the inverse of "Who Rize Above": a mellow, funk-splashed neo-soul jam that uses Akwetey's sweet falsetto, not Aku's fire-breathing howl, for its fuel. Both are even more remarkable when taken in tandem, because although they share the same subject (politics), their approach, both musically and thematically, is completely different. Where "Who Rize Above" is all pseudo-anarchist invective in a punk vein, "Closer" is a meek plea for action and strength paired with a soul groove, more What's Going On than London Calling.
These two songs are so strong that at times each feels like the opposite pole of a singularity that the surrounding tracks are all seeking feebly to escape. This is a shame, because there is not a single song on Coronation Thieves that is not stellar. The dissonant "War Lover" almost sounds like its melody was washed away by fire and all we're hearing now is the ash, with the furious "Breaker" falling right on top of it. "Take It to Ride" is probably the most outright psychedelic of the bunch, sounding more like the soundtrack for a sci-fi snuff flick than anything else. "Rockin Star" is a fascinating little jewel, mostly because there is no real melody but rather a frog-like bass effect followed by wave upon wave of Shields-esque guitar distortion. This song is either going to thrill you to pieces or grind your nervous system to dust.
How a band that's only been around for two years manages to sound this assured I don't know, but Coronation Thieves remains a brave and thrilling debut -- if not one of 2007's best albums, then at least its greatest discovery. Going by the recent buzz generated from festival appearances and a few near-legendary live shows in New York City, I'm hardly alone on this. Fact is, Dragons of Zynth sounds like a band that simply doesn't give a flying one what you or I think anyway, which is part of what makes Coronation Thieves so fascinating. There is an Icarus-like attitude here that cares nothing for consequences -- just set the controls for the heart of the sun and all will be fine and dandy. I don't know how that bodes for the longevity of these guys, but Dragons of Zynth is definitely here now, so hold down your daughters and keep those virgins close. Something wicked this way comes.