Album review: ZEUK – Crow Spanner

Source: album artwork

Words by Grey Malkin

Zeuk, aka Cardiff based psychedelic troubadour Marc Roberts, has pursued a consistently curious and creative artistic path since the release of his debut, ‘Zeuk’, in 2013 on the Reverb Worship label. A glorious, intimate and highly personal piece of acid folk painted in wild, romantic colours and adorned with imagery of seahorses and amethysts, ‘Zeuk’ was beautifully out of time and place, and much adored by those who came across its charms. Since then there has been the spectacular and theatric Starlings Planet project, which injected a gothic sensibility into a enjoyably deranged mix of Peter Hamill and vintage electronica, as well as ‘I See Horses’, an ambitious sophomore effort that saw an entire album’s worth of material mixed (by Melmoth The Wanderer) into a single, composite suite to great success. Marc’s ability to channel a number of influences into a coherent and engaging whole, whilst still sounding quite unlike anyone else, is a characteristic that repeatedly repays and rewards. His distinctive, immediately identifiable vocals can conjure genuine drama, whilst also be equally at home whispering hushed secrets. It is this sometimes playful, oft unsettling set of skills and singular approach that imbues new release, ‘Crow Spanner’, with a genuinely exciting and addictive allure. The welcome variety of sounds, styles and genre crossing are in attendance, however it all still feels resolutely ‘Zeuk’. The album therefore has a distinctive commonality and flow, while also providing a magical mystery tour of sorts, with pleasing unpredictability and new, weird delights around each corner or turn.

A repeated spoken dialogue of ‘thank you and goodbye’ delivers an engagingly eccentric opening, before quickly dissolving into the electronic beats and new wave guitar shards of ‘Crow Time’. Reminiscent of both Current 93 and Wire (how does he manage that that unlikely combination?), the repeated mantra of the song title and echoing, reverberated oddness is immediately bewitching and intriguing, inviting us down Zeuk’s own personal rabbit hole. ‘If I Were A Clock’ also adopts a strident ‘Chairs Missing’ approach, with a lo-fi, stripped back drum machine and guitar attack, yet the piece still sounds huge, dramatic and layered. Eerie, backwards roars and howls permeate the background; with Zeuk these details are expertly placed for maximum strangeness, casting unusual shadows and shapes. ‘I’m Mad As Hell’ weaves an ‘Ipcress File’ style harpsichord/sitar motif to shuddering electronics and strings, the protagonist proclaiming that ‘he is as mad as hell and he is not going to take anymore’, whilst Klaus Nomi castrato vocals harmonise behind. Ominous and thrilling, there is little around that sounds like this. If acid folk in the late 60s and early 70s took recognised song forms and genres (like folk or folk rock) and twisted them lysergically with their own sensibilities and values, this is a modern-day equivalent, and it is gloriously inventive. 

Zeuk (Marc Roberts)

Speaking of such, ‘Tides’ returns us to the world of psych folk, and a particularly yearning and star crossed Zeuk. A beautiful sadness hangs draped over the song, showcasing just Marc and his guitar accompanied by some low-key percussion; the result is quietly and gently powerful in its emotive pull. ‘A Northern Shining’ follows similar ground but with more of mischievous Syd Barrett grin on its face, whilst ‘Doppelganger’ takes an alternative direction, adding a dub infused electronic sheen and Jah Wobble bass to a spooked out gothic slice of experimentalism, more PIL’s ‘Metal Box’ than The Incredible String Band. However, we are then transported back to summer meadows for the exquisite, folky ‘One Way Ticket (Oh Man!)’, a pleasing twist and turn between differing landscapes. These are the many sides and aspects of Zeuk, all receiving due attention. Next, ‘I Am A Cloud (Oh Yes)! is an insistent and urgent work of vintage electronica, with a hint of Bauhaus in its blood, and ‘Webs’ a delicate, twisted nursery rhyme, filled with field recordings, birdsong and subtle bursts of mellotron. ‘Twilight of Ice’ enters ambient territory, with drifting, vast washes of synth, delayed guitar echoes and a child’s voice intoning impassively through the stars, across the vast skies. Stately and with a warm beauty, this demonstrates yet another attribute or facet of Zeuk’s singular universe, and is most welcome. The last song, ‘Looking for Huxley’ is a vintage piece of perfect psychedelia, a wistful chamber folk song that combines whimsey and an alluring melancholia to provide an album highlight.

‘Crow Spanner’ then, a mosaic or technicolour tapestry of strangeness, sadness, joy and the wyrd, a collage of colours that is both intoxicating and consistently captivating; these songs get deep under your skin and house themselves into your thoughts and imagination. Whilst they may exhibit a cabinet’s worth of curiosities, they are also highly melodic, Zeuk having a keen ear for both harmony and hooks. They are also affecting; at times the warmth and honesty of the recordings can feel like an intimate conversation between Roberts and the listener. Utterly unique and highly recommended. Every home needs a crow spanner.

Available now as a download from Bandcamp as well as on CD from Folk Archive Records, complete with badge and vintage, mystical tea card.

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