Sometimes music critics can benefit from adhering to the notion that “form follows function.” It’s an abstract use of the bauhaus principle, but one which feels especially relevant in the modern music landscape. We often slather genre tags on scenes and artists that are growing more and more stylistically agnostic, making for a bricolage of terms that appears more unkempt than illuminating. So in the process of listening to Deer Pink, I decided to ditch this fragmented lens and instead analyzed Zvi‘s latest work based on the tangible sonic themes and atmospheres it presented. In doing so, the vastness and engulfing experience of the album becomes all the more enticing to explore with each repeat listen.
At its core, Deer Pink sounds like Loren Connors playing his signature style of bluesy, free improv guitar in a post-apocalypse world soundtracked by Trent Reznor‘s more atmospheric work. The dynamic, expansive palette this implies should be unsurprising, given Ron Varod’s work with Kayo Dot and Psalm Zero outside his output under the Zvi banner. The collection of tracks on Deer Pink are exceptionally composed and fine tuned down to every last detail, leading to vast atmospheres that still feel meticulously crafted.
The central beauty of Deer Pink is Varod’s ability to balance synthetic and organic elements. Some tracks swing more towards one of the end of the spectrum, but the overall album experience compliments these shifts and turns with ease. Opener “Kettle Dreams” is a dreamy, guitar-driven affair, picking up additional instrumentation towards its conclusion but remaining one of the album’s most intimate pieces. It’s perhaps the best example of Varod’s “singer/songwriter” status, along with the pained croon he employs across the entire album.
The focus and subtleties flip on “Dear Pink,” with a brooding crawl of electronics accented by stray guitar notes peeking through the murk. This feels less like a dichotomy as it does a logical ebb and flow between the core components of Zvi’s central ethos. In turn, “Follow the Snake” is a perfect blend of these two worlds, with a progression of hypnotic guitar lines serving as the center of gravity for Varod’s various synth explorations.
The latter half of the album continues these experiments, starting with a markedly more unsettling, industrial-tinged vibe on “Low and Trite.” It might be the closest thing the album has to a straight-up rock single, what with a catchy guitar line and slightly more linear development. Conversely, “The Amputee” is a haunted, unraveling soundscape defined by somber guitar work and low humming synth pads. It’s a fitting dirge to compliment the notably brighter “Handcramps,” which closes out the album with some of the most pop-oriented ideas Varod conjured for this release. With a sequenced beat and synth-forward approach, the track sounds like a modern version of one of Suicide‘s catchier songs.
Varod offers a great deal for listeners to absorb on Deer Pink, but a central theme of exploration remains throughout. There’s a seemingly endless list of genre tags that could be affixed to what Varod creates with his Zvi project. But as is the case with most experimental music, listener’s enjoyment often directly correlates with a lack of expectation and preparation for how an album will unfold. There’s more to be gained from a journey approached with an open mind rather than an annotated map. In that sense, Deer Pink allows listeners to traverse a rich web of textured soundscapes replete with bold, exceptional ideas. Fans of the broader web of Kayo Dot alumni will undoubtedly enjoy the trip.
Deer Pink is available now via Nefarious Industries.