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Zeppelin 3

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Album Review

Pink Skull main man Julian Grefe has spoken in interviews about wanting to make a record in the vein of the Chemical Brothers' Dig Your Own Hole, citing its dynamic diversity and cohesive album-length arc as elements lacking in most contemporary dance music. It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when listening to the Philadelphia band/DJ collective's sprawling, perplexing debut album — for one thing, it's gotten distressingly difficult to think of the Chems as radical and experimental these days — but that 1997 landmark is an entirely apt reference point. Zeppelin 3 certainly doesn't sound much like the vast majority of electronic music produced this decade, with a rough-edged, acid-washed sensibility that evinces little of electro-house's garish, '80s-refracting gleam or minimal's streamlined polish. And it doesn't sound anything like Led Zeppelin's III (Grefe's all-time favorite album) either, although like the Chems before them, Pink Skull don't shy away from manifesting their love of rock music and stadium-sized excess — Grefe's a veteran of several Philly punk bands, and there are plenty of guitars here although they're employed not so much for righteous riffage as for steady, Kraut-like slow burns ("Zing Zong," "El Topo") and ambient smears ("Ssilt.") There's also a bit of deviant hip-hop — an enjoyable, "Apache"-cribbing remix of Plastic Little's "Crambodia," featuring Amanda Blank, Spank Rock, and, improbably, Ghostface Killah — and a smidgen of indie folk, in the oddly truncated Mirah guest-spot "Take Me Out Riding," which mostly feels like a missed opportunity (particularly in perhaps unfair comparison with the Chemical Brothers' brilliant work with Beth Orton.) Otherwise, most of the album consists of highly abstract, restively mutating, groove-based tracks that land somewhere in between breakbeat and acid house, overlaid with squelching psychedelic synths, percussion breakdowns, snatches of saxophone, and tortured, unrecognizable vocal fragments, and embellished with a dizzying array of effects. In other words, it's not far off from the bulk of Dig Your Own Hole, although this album lacks the equivalent of a "Block Rockin' Beats" or a "Setting Sun." There are few apparent bankable hooks, although the abrasive, insistent fuzz bass lick of the break-happy "Gonzo's Cointreau" (the album's most straightforward stab at big beat revivalism — there's even a siren!), comes close. Partly for that reason, but also because it's not quite as eclectic or as cohesive as Grefe and co. perhaps hoped, Zeppelin 3 can be somewhat daunting and draining to listen through in its entirety. But taken in smaller doses (the ten-minute kitchen-sink workout "Bubblelog Aftermath," for instance), it can be quite effective, and it's definitely a worthwhile and promising step in the ongoing exploration and integration of dance music's interconnected past and future. ~ K. Ross Hoffman, Rovi


Formed: 2003 in Philadelphia, PA

Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '00s

Genre-bending electronica outfit Pink Skull are primarily the brainchild of DJ and producer Julian Grefe, a longtime fixture of Philadelphia's punk and dance music scenes, along with a host of friends and collaborators, most notably Justin "JG" Geller, and, eventually, a full-fledged band. Through the late '90s and early 2000s, Grefe was a member of emo-punkers the Trans Megetti and the arty S PRCSS (a band whose name he also took as his DJ alias surname), while also working as a DJ and producing...
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