“Maybe, this thing is bigger than all of us!” a girl exclaims on “Monique (New Moon),” the first of 30 tracks on L.A. rhyme-spitter, producer and engineer Zeroh’s latest album, Pool Party: Original Still Picture Project, an audio accompaniment to Australian artist Ryan Asher McShane’s series of drawings superimposed over images of the artist’s “oceanic-centered city.” You know, she’s probably right. Zeroh writes that the project explores the themes of “mind control, magic, human psyche, and the ocean – all governed by the moon.” As psychedelically-drenched as this description is, a sober person will still find that Pool Party contains compelling auditory explorations of the human mind and attempts to comprehend the astral and physical worlds beyond our reach.
Even with so many tracks, the layered instrumentals ebb and flow, lulling you into reverie only to throw cold water on you—sometimes in the same song. These shifts in emotional and musical tones express the prevalent theme of harmony vs. disharmony in the human mind.
During the day, at any given moment, our emotions and state of mind will shift regardless of an eventful trigger. We might not always understand why we’ll go to bed blissfully, then wake up the following morning wishing the day was already over. Zeroh would attribute the shift to a change in the tide of the ocean, secret agencies wanting to control our minds, and the moon. Whether one subscribes to these theories and astral philosophies or not, Zeroh does capture our fluid psyches from his particular frame of reference.
The rock n’ roll, jazzy sounds in “Lutte pt. 2” slowly dissolve into a moodier, darker atmosphere. “Loco” commences like a minimalist dance track only to cut into a choppy, industrial beat for most of the song, lasting until its end; newly muffled, the conclusion sounds as if a clubber went outside and was listening from the other side of the exit door. True to its title, “Kerosene” plunges into a state of disharmony with its brash aspects at the forefront while a hint of an abyss colors the fringes. But then we get a cheery track like “Apogeo,” meaning peak, heyday, and climax in Spanish. We have traversed through interstellar interference and oblique dreams to reach a 3-and-a-half minute, harmonious walk through the sun-soaked forest complete with flitting flute that also appears in the soulful song, “Goodbye.” Such sequences of altering moods capture in some way the varying emotional states of a day.
Zeroh uses vocal samples to carry out the themes of mind control, presented in the album’s description, and to reproduce ways the human mind processes speech. On “Lutte pt. 1” two men wax philosophical about the individual’s obligation to improve the world instead of leaving the Earth’s problems to the next generation. Humorously, a black helicopter appears above them to which one of the guys responds, “A black helicopter? Did we say too much?” This sampled conversation emphasizes the theme of the connection between humans and the Earth in Pool Party.
The track most likely to actually be played at a pool party, “Swim City” sounds like one with nondescript chatter and breezy clinking. We also hear a man speaking to a woman saying something like, “You go over there? They cut it out, I get caught up.” What this means is unknown, but the repetition of the vocal fragment mirrors our tendency to hear only a snippets of a conversation while walking by other people.
Not all of this is mind-expanding, stoned experimentalism. Zeroh includes some satisfying, off-center hip-hop beats similar to some of his friends on Brainfeeder and Stones Throw such as “Qui Tombe,” “Fiesta Por Favor” and “Erika, Wait,” which features a sample from Al Green’s “Stay With Me (By the Sea).” These breaks in the headiness are certainly welcome for someone who doesn’t put too much stock into mind control or how the lunar cycle influences our behavior. No piece is glaringly superfluous, but the periodic forays into flamenco guitar on “Gradual” and the minimalist “1934-2006” aren’t the strongest moments. They do provide different textures, though.
Still, Pool Party is an immersive experience intended to be consumed as a whole—a worthwhile endeavor despite its daunting length. Zeroh uses a healthy mix of subtle ambience and cacophony to pull you along. He has made a challenging, bewitching, occasionally elusive piece that, much like magic, draws you into its orbit even if you’re not sure why. So, if Zeroh ever invites you to his pool party, go. You won’t be doing much small talk.