Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Rediscovering The Zephyrs

Many years ago - I reckon it must have been sometime in 2006 - I purchased Rock Action Presents Vol. 1,  a compilation featuring artists signed to Mogwai's Rock Action label.

That CD introduced me to a lot of great bands, including Kling Klang, Part Chimp and Papa M. For some reason, though, I never bothered to investigate any of them any further - as much as I enjoyed listening to Radium and B1 and I of Mine, I must confess that my fondness for those tracks never motivated me to go out and buy the albums from whence they had been torn.

One of my favourite tracks from Rock Action Presents was Stargazer by a band called The Zephyrs. Stargazer was a gorgeous, blissed-out track about lying on the ground and watching the night sky; it's not exactly what you'd expect from a label called 'Rock Action', but a lot of the time, neither are Mogwai themselves. Listen to Stargazer below:

Nice, isn't it? A bit folksier and more earthy-sounding than Mogwai, but beautiful and ethereal nonetheless. Still, as much as I loved that song, I'm afraid The Zephyrs suffered exactly the same fate as Papa M and Part Chimp and the others: I played their contribution to Rock Action Presents again and again and again, but I never did get around to listening to any of their other stuff...

...until a couple of weeks ago. On the Saturday before the Saturday before last, I was browsing an Oxfam shop in central Cardiff when I came across a CD called A Year to the Day by The Zephyrs.

There were many other albums I could have purchased from Oxfam that day, including Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy, Pink's I'm Not Dead, and numerous other classic I should have heard long before now. I had no way of knowing if these Zephyrs were the same Zephyrs who recorded Stargazing, and I knew that even if they were, there was no guarantee that A Year to the Day would live up to that song's high standard.

In spite of these reservations, I decided to give AYttD a try, and I'm pleased to report that my £2 gamble paid off. These Zephyrs did indeed prove to be the same Zephyrs as those other Zephyrs, and more importantly, A Year to the Day is frequently just as good as Stargazing, albeit in a rather different way.

The Zephyrs had apparently left Rock Action's stable by the time they made AYttD, but weirdly, it would appear that flying the Mogwai nest made them sound far more like their former label bosses. A Year to the Day is a lot closer to the 'Gwai's sonic stomping ground than Stargazing; the creaky campfire atmosphere is gone, and in its place are a bunch of slow-burning, plugged-in, post-rocky arrangements.

To return to a word I used earlier, though, AYttD still sounds a lot more earthy than anything Mogwai have ever put out. The album's artwork was very well-chosen, because these songs are basically the aural equivalent of that rocky beach; if Stargazing evoked the image of a moonlit field, then A Year to the Day sounds like waves receding from a pebble-strewn shore and crashing into cliffs on the other side of the world.

In other words, it's proper gorgeous. If you love Mogwai, but you wish their music contained more singing and fewer scary bits, then A Year to the Day is definitely digging up.

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