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Arts & Crafts’ leading modern/classic rock outfit Zeus returns with Classic Zeus, resuming its eternal affair with timeless melody, vintage ambience, and instant future classicism. And yet Classic Zeus, the unapologetically titled third album from the Toronto band, distinguishes immediately as Zeus’ most cohesive and heartfelt work to date: a collection of eleven songs of deeply introspective pop and spirited rock and roll, buoyed by studio mastery reinvented – the resilience of a band at the pass, only bent and not broken.
The stage is set with the chiming first chords of “Where Is My Love?” – direct transportation to the rainbow array of Zeus’ ever-expanding sonic palette. Lush, granular synths and easy-lilting signature shifts wrap Classic Zeus in a familiar cloak, sweet tunefulness now belied by melancholy at its core. As Neil Quin sings over the prevailing brightness: And the days are getting shorter / As the years comes out of order / She says where is my love?
The path to Classic Zeus was a long and often difficult one. By early summer 2013, the songwriting trio of Quin,Mike O’Brien, and Carlin Nicholson, with drummer Rob Drake, had toured their acclaimed sophomore release Busting Visions (2012) all the way to a crossroads; relationships frayed and the future of the band uncertain. As Quin sings on the pensive “One Line Written In”, about the estrangement of life on tour: Hundreds of nights on the dark lonely road / Has hardened me and tampered with my soul
Instead of dissolution, the band embraced exhaustion, returning to its East Toronto studio to begin on the followup to Busting Visions, which earned accolades from New York Times, Rolling Stone, SPIN, KCRW, and NPR. Whereas divergent paths had begun to pull Zeus apart both musically and personally, mutual respect and hunger for exploration brought them back together. Months of musical and technical experimentation, redefining the limitations of their Ill Eagle Studios, yielded new songs and sounds that reflect the broadening perspective of “classic” Zeus, with stronger unity and more definite form than ever before.
The resulting album, Classic Zeus, is a peerless rejuvenation: a marvelous intersection of tension and harmony; newfangled in its dazzling personality, but unabashedly anchored to Zeus’ ear for that essential pop aura.
First single “Miss My Friends” arrives on an august breeze, with tropical staccato and wistful call-and-response vocals touching on the recent band climate: It was the summer of love / But now it’s turned to fall. The song’s perfect admixture of trilling synths and metric bass injects warm-season-in-the-city with its first natural anthem, an impeccable package of melody and sentiment. The upbeat “27 Is The New 17” illustrates the maturation of Zeus, albeit disguised as a most concise, accessible pop single.
“Everybody’s Got One” weaves decades-old carousel organs and ethereal gang-vocals around subtle rhythmic slides, embellishments of the simple complexities in Zeus’ effortless songwriting – always landing on something shining and unforgettable, with rich, economical production binding the intricacies. As Nicholson sings: Rock and Roll is everything / Everything I know
“Bonnieview” harkens back to “How Does It Feel?” – off 2010’s Polaris Music Prize-nominated debut, Say Us, which won XM Verge’s award for Album Of The Year – with electricity conjoining layers of triumphant piano, animated bass, and searing melody – Drake’s carefree drumming sweeping away changes in pace with ease. The epic-in-miniature “You Could Have A Lover” recalls the former fuzz early Zeus, a bluesy vamp that ascends to a plateau of hopeful resolve in the album’s penultimate moment.
Classic Zeus recounts the considerable distance the band has traveled across its first three uniquely collaborative albums. This is Zeus’ most dynamic and focused record to date, a truly collective effort of singular vision, despite wearing the strains of diversity on its sleeve. It is the sound of a band carving new sonic space, and rediscovering itself therein. Shedding the tags that have chased the band since its inception, Classic Zeus finds the band comfortable in its own skin, determining its own retroactive lineage.
Classic Zeus is the story of a band that has walked through fire and come out the other side naked and raw. As the band plays out with promise and catharsis in the reprieve of closing track “Throw It On The Fire”, self-reflection on its trials and newfound triumphs: “Take your past and throw it on the fire.”