It is a huge task to release two albums in one year. I often find when bands do this, the results are two subpar albums that could have been combined and edited heavily into one masterpiece. This is not so with Zoungla. Coming in hot off the heels of “Family” earlier this year, “There Will Be Dub” released on October 19th. This is an album that might not appeal to all, but will definitely please many progressive fans out there. It certainly has a completely different identity than the previous album.
Zoungla hails from Montreal, and is a solo project from Costa Damoulianos. Costa plays or programs all the instruments himself. This is a one man show, truly; and that continues to impress me when compared to the amazing results.
Though this is Zoungla’s second album this year, the music is quite different. The previous album featured everything from progressive metal to ambient to prog rock to pop to cinematic musings. This album is a progressive electronic affair, more along the lines of Vangelis or Tangerine Dream. However, there is more bass, electronic beat, and gravity in the sound than those artists typically have, although their movement-based, slow burn structures are definitely a foundation to this album. In other words, it is progressive electronic plus dub. So, you’ll hear plenty of bright synth, swashes of keyboard beauty, and ominous choir vocals, but the album is primarily driven by bass lines, reggae grooves, and quirky reverb. You will also notice an Eastern flair to a few of the tracks.
Let me explore that a bit further. The album is called “There Will Be Dub”, so there is obviously dub here. Now, I’m not talking about dub step, which is related but not the same thing. No, dub is a genre that came out of reggae in the 60s, and some say it was a precursor to electronic. This subgenre of music is known for cutting and editing soundbites from various sources, songs, and samples into completely new compositions. Much of it revolves around a “riddim”, a stripped down bass and drum groove that sets the stage for everything else. From there, the artist adds echo, reverb, delay, dubbing, and other accents to make the song come alive in brand new ways.
This is exactly what you will hear on this album, in addition to truly electronic offerings, beautifully-prepared melodies, and fantastic ambience. Now, when I normally talk about “atmosphere” or “ambience”, I typically mean that the album feels haunted, celestial, or emotional. Though there is some of that here, this album is generally atmospheric in a completely different way. This is oozy, squishy, blurpy glory; reminding me at times of the Martians in Jeff Wayne’s “War of the Worlds”, but other times it feels like I’m walking through a marshland of Tim Burton-esque creations or playing ToeJam and Earl in the early 90s. It exudes color, quirk, and personality.
Now, I told myself that I wasn’t going to do a track by track for this album: Believe me, I definitely could. Each and every track is wonderful. However, I’m going to narrow it down a bit. Like most good progressive electronic albums, the songs on this album are fairly long, with 4 of them being around 10 minutes long. That splits the songs into two types: shorter songs that focus on a single catchy melody and longer songs that have more of a slow burn structure. Songs like “Homage to the Dub Masters”, “Young Man 2” and “Tune Out the World” are shorter, catchier, and very colorful. They are all fantastic. The real meat of the album, however, lies in the longer songs that feature more transitions and more atmosphere, and I want to discuss those in more detail.
“Good Morning Ozora” introduces us to a world of bass and ooze, and the results are relaxing and hypnotic. As far as I can tell, this is the only song where you will hear Costas’ voice, and the lyrics are simple and sparse, but the overall song feels like you are entering a new realm. “Day Moon” could technically be in the shorter bracket of songs, but I feel it belongs here. It is a beauty of a song that reminds me of Vangelis, with its ominous and organic grace.
As I said above, some of the songs have an Eastern flair. “Deep Sea Dubbin’” literally makes you feel like you are underwater, specifically like you are exploring a vibrant and multi-textured coral reef. It has a slower overall groove, and there are lots of subtle sounds, plenty of reverb, and an Eastern-inspired melody. The beautiful floating melody near the end is so worth the wait. “Flower Sun” is the first song that features a strongly reggae sound. The groove trips and slides along in a bright and beautiful fashion. Again, Eastern influences are at play here, and the song sounds illustrious and driven. “Sunday” is a fantastic track with many transitions. It starts out with a heavy Eastern flair, but moves into reggae grooves and females vocal musings. After that, it gets more ambient with some light melodic touches that I really like. The song is all about layers and a grand build up to the point where all those layers collide and the brass instruments reveal themselves. The results are satisfying and immaculate.
“There Will Be Dub” is a pure labor of love. With both albums being released in the same year, comparisons will obviously be drawn, but I am not sure which one I think is better. They are both fantastic for completely different reasons. Let me say this: If “Family” and “There Will be Dub” were both available on vinyl, I would be buying “There Will Be Dub” first. So, I guess that means that this album is specifically more along my tastes right now, and I’m certainly excited to see where Zoungla goes next.