Zip Tang - Luminiferous Ether

Year of Release: 2007
Label: self-released
Catalog Number: n/a
Format: CD
Total Time: 64:21:00

Some band sent me a link to their CD on CD Baby and it's classified as alt/prog. I listen to a few samples and it sucks. Big surprise yeah? Let me remind you,? I'm a prog snob. I don't like neo-prog or prog-metal, so I'm certainly not going to like alt/prog. I don't even like alternative rock that doesn't have progressive pretensions. Well, now that this is established, I feel much better and I can go on now. For some reason I keep looking at other listings from alt/prog bands and I see this listing for a Chicago band called Zip Tang. That's an amusing name I think, and I click on their disc Luminiferous Ether. I check out the song titles and their lengths. Only nine tunes mostly about six minutes long, here's one that's ten minutes long and???aaahh! I see those six little letters. Take my glasses off and stick my nose real close to the monitor, yes, it does say "Tarkus." I start listening to a few samples and it's good, it's all good, not just "Tarkus," but all of it. Wasting no time, I send them a message, get the disc and? here we are.

I tend to fall head over heels in love with a band every now and then, and I also tend to go a bit far with the hyperbole and usually regret it later. I'm going to try to limit my hyperbolic ranting this time, but if anything I've heard recently deserves to be raved about, it's Zip Tang.

If anything, Zip Tang is a fun band (and the lyrics are occasionally funny, too) and that is something that is very unusual in the music I listen to. In caps now??FUN! Zip Tang is also cerebral enough to satisfy any real prog fan as well. Their cover of "Tarkus" alone should demonstrate that well enough. Think Red Hot Chili Peppers and Ben Folds meets Echolyn, Izz, King Crimson and Pink Floyd. Vocals are handled by sax/keys player Marcus Padgett (whose voice sounds to me like Echolyn's Ray Watson) with brief appearances from bassist Rick Wolfe and guitarist Perry Merritt. The songs are all group efforts and the musicianship is top notch all throughout the album. Next to Padgett's great sax playing and his all too brief keyboard work, the real musical star of Luminiferous Ether is drummer Fred Faller who plays much like a cross between the Chili Peppers Jack Irons and Dream Theater's Mike Portnoy?. well, what Portnoy would sound like if he could keep his ego under control and if he had any taste (I must mock DT and Portnoy at every opportunity). The liner notes say the disc was recorded at ZT (Zip Tang?) Studios which is probably one of the band members garage, yet it is the best sounding self-released album I can ever remember hearing. If they told me that this was recorded at the Record Plant or Electric Ladyland studios with Jack Douglas behind the board I would totally believe it. Suffice it to say the sound is incredibly good. The lyrics are clever and well written and some show a healthy concern for food and drink. If you (like me) spend a lot of time listening to bands whose lyrics delve into karma, life before, during and after death, ragging about religion and exploring the various adventures of Orpheous, Salmacis or Odysseus you might even find them a refreshing change of pace.

The disc opens with the wonderful "Tower Of Tuna", Zip Tang's ode to the cocktail and finger food crowd. Imagine the Chili Peppers trying to write a modern version of "21st Century Schizoid Man" and succeeding. The music kicks ass and they manage to include the words absinthe, carpaccio and escartgo in the lyrics. It's only the first track and I'm already surprised and delighted.

Next comes "Missed The Beginning." More Chili Peppers meets early Crimson stuff. I'm still being entertained though. The lyrics are pretty much standard Jack Ass generation, slacker stuff, but I can still relate to it. I love the chorus,?"I missed the beginning, I slept through the middle, I wasted the ending, Don't tell me it's over." I've done that a few times.

Track three is "Nothing Here" which reminds me of Izz in their full Ben Folds mode. I've already accepted the reality that this sort of thing is prog and as such I even like this kind of thing now. More slacker lyrics and another great cutting chorus which really speaks to me,?. "There's nothing here, And you're just here, Cause there's nothing there, Or worse than nothing." I've been "there" a few times, too. "Nothing Here" also has a gorgeous acoustic guitar and string synth intro that really sets the mood for this tune quite well. It's all good so far.

The next track "Doctor Plush" gets to more traditional prog territory with its ten minute span, multi-part, suite type construction, great harmony vocals and a few clear references to Pink Floyd. You get a lot of very cool Rick Wright type swirling and spacey keyboards, the Roger Waters "am I crazy?" type lyrics and a long center section with wailing sax that will remind anyone of Dark Side Of The Moon. I'm liking this even more now.

Now we have "Like We Did Before" which is the first thing on this disc that strikes me as filler both musically and lyrically. Filler, and I have nothing to say about filler, next???

Ah yes, next is "Beta," sounding like a cross between the Dave Brubeck Quartet and very early King Crimson. Lots of Crimson influence from this band. Real good sax and guitar interplay on this nearly six minute instrumental. Nice, but very short synth solo, too. The synth voice reminds me of Joe Zawinale. It's all back on the right path now. Uh Oh, track seven is "Searching For Treasure." I don't see any treasure here, but I do hear more filler. Next???..

"With A Twist" takes us back to the Chili Peppers sound without any KC influence to balance it all out and this tune is full on alternative with no prog side whatsoever. I still like it though. Good vocals, nice little synth flute line and a center section that breaks down with a bluesy tempo and feel. It also has some good slide guitar here and there. Not exactly my cup of tea but it's not filler either.

Zip Tang dispenses their best and most proggish material early on and tries to slip in some less than inspired work later on when they figure they've got you hooked but it's not fooling me. They better do something amazing to finish this disc out and the final track does just that in spades.

Luminiferous Ether saves their most proggy and most musically impressive work till the end with a full on eighteen minute rendition of "Tarkus." I've described most of Zip Tang's tunes as some sort of Chili Peppers/ King Crimson blend so telling you that they are now performing a pretty faithful version of ELP's massive "Tarkus" may seem like the band is ending with a sudden left turn. Maybe, but not after you've heard the whole disc a few times. This just takes everything Zip Tang has done up till now and expands it to its logical extremes. They break down Emerson's keyboard work with Perry Merritt playing mostly the left hand keys parts on guitar while Marcus Padgett handles the right hand part with all of its melodic and thematic focus on the sax. Padgett also fills out whatever else seems necessary on keyboards using his best B-3 voice. The biggest surprise (for me anyway) is just how good and satisfying this cover of "Tarkus" is. Like I said earlier, I tend to fall in love with a band and go all googly over them, and (at least for now) I'd rather hear this version of "Tarkus" than ELP's version (forgive me) or any of the other covers of "Tarkus" that I have treasured up till now. The only complaint I can even make about this version is that I would have preferred that Padgett had sung this tune. The vocals by bassist Rick Wolfe are fine but after getting used to Padgett's voice over the course of this disc I think he could have done a better job of it. No offense to the other singing band members, but Zip Tang can only have one "best" singer and that is clearly Padgett. Of course, Padgett has to play a lot of complex sax lines and when he's not doing that he has to fill in the gaps on keyboards and expecting him to sing as well would make it impossible for him to pull it all off live, but nevertheless?.. I would be remiss to leave out the fact that everyone has their hands full on this excellent piece of work, and that Wolfe's bass playing is dead on and Fred Faller's drumming is exceptional here.

All in all, I really like this disc, much more than I would ever have guessed. It took me a dozen spins before I felt qualified to say anything reasonably intelligent (I hope) about it since alt/prog is way, way outside my usual little world of prog music.

Zip Tang's music is always engaging and never "just there" like wallpaper. Luminiferous Ether both feeds a need (one I wasn't even aware I had) and commands respect, always quirky but never condescending, hip, but not shallow. I have to recommend this disc highly. No album is perfect and this disc is no exception. The presence of a couple of less than inspired cuts along side of so many unique and memorable performances prevents me from giving Zip Tang the highest marks that my first listen led me to believe was warranted, but after listening to this debut a good many times I think my current opinion is valid and not fueled by any passing fancy. Maybe it will just be a short term obsession with me, but I hope not.

Tower Of Tuna (5:39) / Missed The Beginning (5:15) / Nothing Here (6:10) / Doctor Plush (10:00) / Like We Did Before (5:02) / Beta (5:47) / Searching For Treasure (4:24) / With A Twist (3:46) / Tarkus (18:10)

Marcus Padgett - vocals, sax, keys
Rick Wolfe - bass, vocals
Perry Merritt - guitar, vocals
Fred Faller - drums

Luminiferous Ether (2007)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: September 12th 2007
Reviewer: Tom Karr
Artist website:
Hits: 2017
Language: english


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