Band: Zopp | Album: Dominion | Genre: Progressive rock | Year: 2023
From: Nottingham, UK | Label: Flat Circle Records
For fans of: Soft Machine, Diagonal, Caravan
I’ve discussed the Canterbury sound on this site a number of times. Its heyday–like much of progressive rock–was back in the early 1970s, but even then it was somewhat niche. Despite that, there are a few acts still keeping this sound alive, and Zopp is one of the best ones.
Zopp’s 2020 self-titled debut wound up being one of my top albums for the year, though I never reviewed it before my year-end best-of list. It wasn’t some late-in-the-year surprise for me; I just never got around to covering it. But I don’t want to have that be the case again. The two pre-release singles for Dominion had both been great, so I went into this record with pretty high hopes. On their Bandcamp, the band describes this album as being closer to Yes or Marillion than any Canterbury act, but I have to disagree. If I’m looking for good comparisons, I’m still going to cite Soft Machine, Gong, and (especially) Caravan.
This new album opens on “Amor Fati”, and a weird, celestial blend of guitar, organ, and wordless vocals set the scene. It’s a short introductory track, but it does a good job at conjuring the mood for what is to come.
What follows is the 11-minute lead single, “You”. A tense ostinato piano drives its introduction along, and multiple organ parts flesh out the overall sound. It eventually bursts into a fuzzed-out, extended section of soloing that is virtuosic and complex without being smothering or off-putting. Buzzing bass and a uniquely-Canterburian organ tone lead into a lightly jazzy verse. Zopp was an instrumental record, so the inclusion of vocals is a new development for this duo. Everything-but-the-drummer Ryan Stevenson’s voice reminds me of that of Alex Crispin of Diagonal, and the piano-forward backing only underscores that comparison. The song features an interesting, Beatlesesque melody in its second half, and the fusing of psychedelic and progressive sounds works great.
Saxophone takes the lead in the opening of “Bushneil Keeler”. This song has a bouncy feel to it, and strands of jazz and folk are noticeable. This instrumental cut has some great momentum, and the way the sax, organ and flute play around each other is highly satisfying.
“Uppmärksamhet” (Swedish for “Attention,” according to Google Translate) starts with a lazy, glassy organ. Acoustic guitar and adds a woodsy character, and fuzzy guitar languidly floats over the top. This song acts as a nice, relaxing palate cleanser between the higher-octane cuts on Dominion.
Speaking of higher-octane songs, “Reality Tunnels” launches into an irregular, jumpy riff, where organ and guitar synchronize on a crunchy lead. Mellotron adds a lushness to the backing track, and though it’s never given the uninterrupted spotlight, I really like the bass work on this song.
“Wetiko Approaching” is a short song, with strong folk influence in the vocal melody. The instrumental backing is relatively pared-back, and it feels more like a lead-in to the next song than a composition meant to stand on its own.
Dominion ends on its longest song, the 14-minute “Toxicity”. The rhythm is propulsive, and that distinctive Canterbury organ tone is once again at the forefront. Stevenson’s vocals here are strong, complementing the creative and dynamic composition. It’s impressive how the band is able to keep up the energy and intensity without this track becoming tedious or exhausting. As the song enters its final few minutes, there’s a sense of upward momentum, and an extended instrumental passage that sounds like it would have been at home on Hot Rats is a lovely inclusion.
Dominion is a fantastic release, and it’s an improvement on Zopp’s stellar debut. The integration of vocals is smooth and organic, and the music has a satisfying complexity and a rich breadth of tones. They nail the mingling of organ, crunchy guitar, and wind instruments; and the Canterbury sound hits that sweet spot of retro-but-not-derivative.