Inspired by classic soul voices like Stevie Wonder, Chris Zurich’s early forays into music were previously heard under the name of The New West. Yet in another case of a name already being taken, the Philadelphia-based artist sensibly chose to use his own name for what is essentially his first solo album. ‘Black Ink’ – the title a reference to how an octopus reacts when confronted with danger – sees him come out fighting. Loosely categorised as modern soul music but broad enough to draw from post-rock, electronica and even country, this is an album where the artist has broken off the shackles with an ambitious approach.
Events begin with the relatively positive sounding ‘Annie’; the busy layers of production (hip-hop beats, jangly guitars etc.) form a lovely backdrop for Zurich to deliver his yearning vocal. On ‘The Sounds’ and ‘Doomsday’, the structure of the songs are much more progressive with guitars weaving and meandering in a post-rock fashion. Indeed, it is the complexity of the arrangements which are the key to ‘Black Ink’s success. Whilst a lot of new soul records are all about the voice (and he exhibits a fine range on ‘North Of Sky’) with songwriting almost an afterthought, Zurich is canny enough to mix the old and the modern. Unsurprisingly the least adventurous songs, such as the country-flavoured ‘Bend Song’ or the earnest rock of ‘No One Escapes’, are the ones which don’t tend to linger so long in the memory. For standout ‘Nothing Around Me’, however, Zurich recounts the tale of a split from a former bandmate with believable levels of regret and angst and some excellent electronic soul.
Once you begin to appreciate the level of detail and of course Zurich’s always emotive vocals, suddenly those influences of Stevie Wonder become more apparent. He’s not quite the finished article yet but ‘Black Ink’ is a bold and impressive statement of intent.
Stevie Wonder, Merz