A couple years ago I took a canoe trip down the Cahaba river with a few close friends. We left the city and drove for hours into the wild vastness of the Appalachian woods, everything cast in a beautiful pale viridian. We ran our not-too-difficult river course and, reaching its end, camped that night under the stars. I remember the next day, as we drove and by degrees returned to civilization, the setting sun red and winking behind us, listening to the Books' final record The Way Out. The voice on the record intoned, "And I see. And I see. And I see." Still deep in the afterglow of a pristine weekend and the one-hitter's magic, I remember thinking, "Yeah. I do see, man. And I see." The moment was perfect for the music, or the music was perfect for the moment, and the man at least semi-responsible for both was Nick Zammuto. Whenever I return to his world it's just as strange and new as ever, just as green, and I hesitate at the threshold because I know that the intellect, the light, I'm about to encounter is brighter and broader than my own. We step out of the cave.
After the Books decided to call it quits, Nick Zammuto moved into the Vermont woods, family in tow, built a house and the studio in which Anchor was recorded. Don't expect some rustic idyll a la Bon Iver, however. The man is still as cerebral and future forward as ever, bending instruments, and whatever else he happens to find, to his creative will, pragmatic in the most American sense. (For an example, check out the video to the business-core jammer "IO", in which our star builds a trebuchet from scratch and proceeds to launch disused studio equipment into Vermont airspace.)
Every track here is experimental, to the degree that you can almost smell the theory wafting above each of them like so much chemical smoke rendered by the smug kid at the back of the classroom, Icarus falling down his shirt-front. Nick's having fun, that much is obvious. Never in the course of the record, however, do we get the sense that he's playing for play's sake. Sure, it's smart, but never ironic or smug, and that's beyond refreshing in an age of trends about as significant and detrital as the slap-bracelet (For the record, this reporter loves slap-bracelets).
Naturally, any time a (relatively) well-known and (very) well-respected band decides to hang it up, the constituent members' subsequent projects are held up to the light and scrutinized like a newly-minted Benjamin. Does it look like the others? Why doesn't it look like it used to? Can I take it to the bank? Yes, you can. Myriad similarities skate and glide across the surface here, but in it's dark watery heart Anchor holds it own. Zammuto's penchant for found audio, brilliantly utilized on Lemon of Pink and elsewhere, hasn't waned, though its presence here is certainly lighter. The odd time signatures are here in spades, and that unmistakably Zammuto voice has truly and finally found itself. (Again, check out "IO" and that wild and wonderful vocal. He's obviously having a hell of a time.)
If the inventiveness and ingenuity of Anchor are its heart, its relative lack of cohesion would have to be the record's bum leg. Stylistically, the record jumps and skips, at times jarringly so, even if it laughs all the while. Of course, this is no concept album, but listen after listen I was still wanting for a certain tonal harmony, a compositional logic across the span of the whole. Nonetheless, the closer you get the more you see this is a record of pristine detail, splitting its own harsh light into ray after ray of chromatic warmth. Listen and see for yourself.
"People say I got no soul! But who knows?"