Who It Is: Zanders – Buried Men; Seagreen Records (2015)
What It Sounds Like: Fiona Apple or Liz Phair backed by a piano-based garage band
Zanders is a three-piece indie pop band from Hartford, Connecticut. They are led by vocalist Alex Saraceno on keys and feature drummer Jason Rule and bassist Kevin O’Donnell. Their 2014 debut LP Been Better established a stripped back, piano-driven sound that drew a nice bridge between piano pop, punk, and folk rock, but it didn’t leave much of a unique impression to remember the band for. However, with this sophomore LP Buried Men, Zanders may have now proved themselves as an apt vehicle for head-turning singer-songwriter music.
From the very start of this record, it becomes clear that lyricist Saraceno intends to wear her heart on her sleeve. Lyrics like “the closest I’ll get to waking up with you is sleeping in your clothes / the closest I’ll get to holding your hand is only with my own / the closest I felt to knowing myself was always in our home” are carried along in the opening track “Poor Circulation” by gently building, ballad-like arrangement. Following track “Twin-Sized Priorities” is even better and kicks off this album’s fantastic momentum. Bouncing along on a funky piano melody, Saraceno rips her past lover with lines that are genuinely great in their frankness like “I’d say fuck you but I think the whole reason you’re mad is probably because I won’t” and “he’ll pretend to be your best friend and he’ll love you / but it all will depend cause if you don’t fuck him in the end it ends.”
Buried Men does a great job of offering memorable tunes all the way through. “Broken Bones” is a gem of bouncy pop that sounds fantastic as backing of Saraceno’s busy lyrical lines. She’s quite fun to listen to, actually; there’s a certain unpredictableness about how she’ll carry on a busy melody. Later on, the band displays some ambition with “For Granted, Pt. II”. Lyrical themes continue (“because platonic’s not a punishment / are you doing this just for the fun of it?”), but this time, the instrumentation is always tense, either building to something with a slow crawl or releasing a flurry of piano chords and taut backing from Rule and O’Donnell. “Call For Help” and “The Blue Room” draw the album to a close with arrangements that are propulsive as they are catchy; these tracks, along with many others, show very clearly that Zanders is above all a rock band, despite a lack of guitars.
Buried Men displays such strong musicality at times that it’s almost a bummer that its instrumentation is so limited. Even as the most sonically diverse instrument of the modern era, Saraceno’s keyboard almost always sounds like a real piano amplified only by a room. On the flip side, however, this minimal approach could easily be viewed as a strength. The playing is never one-dimensional, and I wouldn’t be surprised if much of this album, especially the keyboard parts, were written out using Western notation. However, most of the album’s weight lies in the lyrics and the emotionally charged yet confident presence of Saraceno. This is what makes Buried Men a fiery album, one that shows that Zanders may be getting too good at their own craft to stay put for much longer.
You Should Probably Listen To: “Twin-Sized Priorities”, “Broken Bones”, “For Granted, Pt. II”
Overall Rating: 8.5/10