Saturday, 8 August 2015

Tub Ring - Zoo Hypothesis: The Search for Intelligent Music



Tub Rings Zoo Hypothesis was released eleven years ago this month, here is a retrospective of the album.

The Zoo Hypothesis is essentially, an argument in diversity, albeit on an astronomical scale. The hypothesis argues that; firstly, it is plausible to assume that a large or possibly infinite amount of extra-terrestrial civilisations exist, secondly explaining the reasoning as to why humanity is yet to make contact with these hypothetical beings. Apt then that Tub Ring would name their third album after one of the most fundamental considerations of the known universe.
           
Tub Ring are specialists in musical diversity through thought provoking, intelligent lyrics and spectacular live performances, yet much like the hypothesis illustrates, the band is yet to register to the majority or be appreciated by the audience they deserve. On writing this I feel like the victim of a supposed alien abduction. I have witnessed the truth, been systematically enlightened and have the answers to many of the questions that we, as humanity so desperately seek the answers for, but no one is listening, no one believes. Such is the dismissive culture we exist in.
          
           Much like their two previous albums; The Drake Equation and The Fermi Paradox, Zoo Hypothesis also contains many references to the search for extra-terrestrial intelligent life. I always assumed the choice of subject matter to be an appropriate metaphor the band adopted in searching for an audience; Intelligent being the key word in this case. The aforementioned Drake Equation showcased more of the bands influences, namely Mr Bungle, rather than the experimental (and ironically more accessible) style they would later adopt. The album was produced by Mr Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance, and it would be justifiable to say that he was given a large portion of creative control over the bands artistic direction as it largely replicates the earlier sound of Mr Bungle with its diverse vocal delivery, abstract lyrics and complex genre-bending song structures.
          
           The following years Fermi Paradox demonstrated an increasingly back to basics approach, whilst it still favoured an experimental sound, it owed more to the bands punk rock beginnings and was, consequently a more accessible, but by no means less enjoyable record. With Zoo Hypothesis, Tub Ring formulted the perfect combination of their previous work and coupled with improved musical proficiency, they fully developed their style into one of the best albums of the year and one of my favourite albums of all time.
           
           The opening song Tiny, Little immediately demonstrates Tub Rings musical intentions for this album. The dramatic cabaret piano inspired track, cleverly describes major events in humanities cultural and technological history, documenting; The Last Supper, Moses crossing the Red Sea, the invention of the computer and finally the creation of the atomic bomb. A familiar concept to Tub Rings music is inspired lyrical themes of both science and philosophy. In this case, the argument details that something so small can ultimately be so significant. A piece of bread can prove integral to a theology and the smallest constituent of matter, an atom, can ultimately cause widespread devastation. 
           
           The theological and scientific references continue into the following song Death of the Robot. Vocalist Kevin Gibson assumes the role of a higher being, seemingly berating their own creation.

“Proof of life is carbon I am everything you're not,
I'll leave you to each other because you share a single god”

The song touches on the perpetual confliction between science and religion. Science can rarely be interpreted in a theological context, certain aspects of religion can be explained in a scientific manner. Whilst humanity previously relied on divine explanations for unanswered questions, science has since enlightened those who are willing to listen. Tub Ring are, consequently proposing the search for intelligent life may initially begin at home.
           
           The Promise Keeper and Sharpening the Sticks deal with more conventional and earthly subject matters. The Promise Keeper details corporate greed and austerity, and climaxes with the resounding lyrics “If I were wise I’d see a trend” referencing the continual economic problems that nearly every single generation has faced. The problems of many account from the actions of few. Sharpening the Sticks is an exploration into rebellion, perhaps on account of the capitalistic corruption depicted in the previous song? Intentionally or otherwise Tub Ring are able to formlessly link the motifs of their songs to the extent that the album almost becomes musical storytelling. Zoo Hypothesis is far from a concept album; more specifically it presents a different concept with each song.
           
           Much like their admired contemporaries Mr Bungle, Tub Ring are not reluctant to experiment and subvert the expectations of their loosely defined genre. Besides the introductory Tiny, Little, the first half of the album stays complimentary to the bands rock-orientated roots, short up-tempo punk influenced songs, punctuated by the inventive keyboards and synths of Rob Kleiner. I Could Never Fall in Love with You presents the first dramatic stylistic departure. The song is purposely archaic both musically and thematically. It channels artists from the fifties when music was considered increasingly innocent and lyrics often dwelled upon traditional themes such as relationships and love. Naturally, Tub Rings unique interpretation of the genre creates an almost, anti-love song and instead describes the unrequited love of a failing relationship.
           
           The conventional rock-orientated approach returns with Habitat and the almost industrial influenced Dog Doesn’t Bite which builds an unnerving electronic introduction before climaxing into a full out punk spectacle complete with sampled Morse Code. Just as the listener is adapting to the tone of the album, Raindrops once again presents an impressive contrast in musical direction. Raindrops emerges as the highlight of the album for a number of reasons. It deceptively masquerades as a subjectively happy song, in a musical sense. It is upbeat with an almost Christmas themed appeal, when you carefully dissect the lyrics do you reveal the emotional narrative of a soldier dictating his last letter home. Only then does the song take on a new meaning, the titular raindrops are tears, “The storm growing closer” is the soldiers, seemingly inevitable death. Just as the song structures can be misleading, the lyrics are equally and reactively ambiguous.
           
           The album concludes with Vehicle which again demonstrates a higher lyrical understanding with a metaphorical allusion to the Heavens Gate cult of the 1970’s. The cult committed mass suicide believing they would elevate their physical existence and embark upon a UFO that was allegedly following the comet Hale-Bopp. The Vehicle in question was the human body, which the cult believed was merely a vessel for their consciousness.

“When we leave behind this land, just be sure to take my hand,
Across the way and come with me,
When we shed our binds and leave our vessels far behind,
We'll find a way and we'll be free.”

           Paradoxically, the search for intelligent life has caused humanity to commit to often foolish means of enlightenment which links back to the Zoo Hypothesis. Maybe there is intelligent life out there? Maybe they see humanity as far too primitive and self destructive to make their presence known? An uneducated and uncivilised species, obsessed with monetary gain and imaginary friends that will solve all their life problems upon the condition of subservience. Should I ever come into contact with extra terrestrial life, I would urge them to listen to this album and prove that there is a small contingent of people out there with conscientious awareness of the world they exist in, and most importantly a desire to improve it, in an artistic sense at least.

NG