“Don’t tell me what happened!” This panicked defense against spoiler alerts is commonly heard these days, particularly following the rise of episodic television.
Nobody wants to know what “happens” until they get to experience it for themself.
In certain circumstances, however, nothing needs to happen for something to be interesting.
That’s the central conceit of Korean shoegaze band Zzzaam’s languid 2004 track “70s Once More.” At nearly seven minutes in length, Zzzaam prove that music doesn’t need to be active, or even assertive, to be effective.
In the late ’90s, Zzzaam began performing in the arts-centric Hongdae region of Seoul.
Their self-released album “Requiem #1” appeared in 2002, followed two years later by their second and final release, “Mirror Game.” Their consistently downtempo compositions were simply truth in advertising; Zzzaam is the Anglicization of a Korean word meaning “sleep.” The group claimed inspiration from the 1960s experimentalists in the Velvet Underground and that group’s spiritual descendants in Sonic Youth.
Footage of Zzzaam’s live performances find band members abusing guitars with drumsticks, a move lifted from Thurston Moore and company.
“70’s Once More” is a standout track from “Mirror Game,” making a lot out of very little.
Once you’ve heard the dreamy, descending melody at the song’s beginning, you’ve familiarized yourself with about a third of the song’s material.
This riff acts as a slowly swinging pendulum, practically luring the listener into a state of hypnosis.
The melody, played on a burbling organ amidst guitars that truly jangle, is often doubled or met in counterpoint by an aimless whistle.
Whistling as a musical texture really says a lot; nothing else better conjures up the image of the carefree wanderer.
In this context, it fits perfectly.
Rather than the often-noisy sheets of sound we’ve come to know from Sonic Youth or the Velvets, the floating melodic carousel presented on “70’s Once More” is rather reminiscent of the sadly defunct British psych band Broadcast.
That is never a bad thing, in my book.
Meanwhile, the verses are lassoed into a loose sort of structure by vocals that flit between a whisper and a breath, between singing and speech.
The drums accomplish a few half-attempted “around-the-world” fills when not tapping out a pulse on the ride cymbal.
All is calm.
At the song’s close, the rhythm section seems to float away, leaving our trusty melody by its lonesome.
In the song’s only slightly jarring moment, what sounds like a collection of cuckoo clocks interrupts the proceedings for a few final seconds.
“70’s Once More” has two parts repeated over and over again, for nearly seven minutes.
It’s the definition of meandering.
It shouldn’t work, but it does.
Perhaps it’s the premium placed on pleasantness.
The music takes the form of a kind of never-ending down comforter.
You wouldn’t expect a down comforter to be “exciting,” so why place that expectation on other aesthetic forms? In a way, Zzzaam are tapping into a minimalist tendency.
Early minimalist musicians like La Monte Young, Terry Riley or Tony Conrad were content to sit in a harmonic space for hours, feeling no need to maintain the listener’s attention with bombast.
The idea for many of the composers of that era was to foster meditative comtemplation.
“70’s Once More” creates just such a state for any listener who wants to take that ride.
Check out Zzzaam’s “70’s Once More RIGHT HERE Jeff Tobias is a multi-instrumentalist, composer and writer currently living in Brooklyn, New York.
Lately, he’s been studying obscure tuning systems and working on his jump shot.