The Zest of Yore

The Zest of Yore

Know Theatre

Saturday – Sep 26 – 9:00

Austin, TX

Reviews of Quality of Life

The Big Takeover

Now this is what I always thought Death Cab for Cutie should sound like. The Denton, Tx band's third disc boasts catchy tunes that occasionally hint at postpunk abrasion, enigmatic lyrics that betray a Beatlesque whimsy in place of ironic self-absorption, a sensitive-guy-next-door voice that doesn't annoy within two songs, and an emotional forthrightness that comes across despite the often puzzling libretto. Even if none of that strums a chord, the strong melodies should. "The Wizard became so Tall," "Shrimp and Flies," and "Mad Moves" perfectly balance hooks and cleverness, and "I'll do the Thinking" is the kind of peppy pop tune that inspires sing alongs without irony. If only all indie rock was this good.


Many of the songs on the new album are as 'zesty' as their name implies, with plenty of catchy indie pop that's full of shimmering and crisp musicianship as well as bright and emotionally rich vocals. Hooky guitars and handsome chorus lines help make this album a welcomed cavity.Well into the album yields "I'll Do the Thinking," which is an unusually sugary rock tune that can even bring to mind groups like the Dandy Warhols circa "Heroin is so Passe," maybe with a little more guitar and less chorus. "The Rejects" is a snappy number, you know, the kind you listen to at the show and just tap your foot and bob your head. It begins with acoustic guitar and ends with a bunch of "la la las."

The Fire Note

Here is a Texas band that has completely flown under the radar with their infectious brand of indie power pop. They have a laundry list of bands they cite as influences in the genre but really have their own sound and Quality Of Life consistes of simple song structures with catchy melodies. The record was co-produced by Doug Gillard (GBV, Cobra Verde) and also has him playing all over it, which gives Zest Of Yore and increased indie cred and keeps them in the guitar driven power pop zone for an enjoyable 34 minutes!


It wouldn't surprise me to learn that Zest of Yore has a shrine dedicated to Robert Pollard. The Guided By Voices influence permeates every aspect of their new record Quality Of Life (down to the liner notes - Doug Gillard of GBV produced and played on some of the tracks). There is a difference, however, between a band that is unoriginal and one that simply wears their influences proudly. Zest Of Yore is definitely the latter, taking the best schizophrenic-pop elements of GBV records like Alien Lanes and Isolation Drills, and mixing in their own sweet-voiced, jangley guitar-pop. The result is a sound wholly their own - a sound built on unpredictable melodies and structural weirdness, but one that never strays too far from the traditional rock aesthetic (think of the power pop giants of yesteryear like The Knack, Big Star, The Replacements, and so on).

The album's opening track, "Quality of Life," is a microcosm of the album itself. It's an arpeggiated indie-pop track that is instantly likable, but still melodically complex. This formula, the cornerstone of the band's sound, is repeated throughout the record. "The Wizard Becomes So Tall," builds from a stiff David Byrne sort of verse to a flowing sugary chorus. "She Comes From Good Stock" and "I'll Do The Thinking" continue in the same vein - tight, well crafted hooks, that are bright, fun and quirky, without ever coming off as simple. "I'll Do The Thinking" is the most immediately catchy song on the record, perhaps due to its more conventional verse / chorus structure. The second half crescendos into a massive driving rock progression that will have heads bobbing. "You Were Dead," another highlight, is more raw and stripped down than other tracks, but still keeps with the flavor of the album (no doubt a product of vocalist Stephen Pierce's delicate voice: a cross between James Mercer and Robert Schneider).

Quality of Life demands more cerebral attention than most pop records. Listeners can't just sit back and turn their brains off. Active listening is required to follow the winding, wandering melodies. The worst criticism I could levy against the band is to say the record seems front-loaded with all of the best songs sequenced in the first half. The later songs, while still good, lack some of the spunk and charm that the early part of the album had. That said, "too many awesome songs up front" is probably the kind of blistering criticism that most bands would kill for.