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There’s something about Rudi Zygadlo that feels of another century. While the nomad-evoking scarves he wraps round his head when he plays live have no doubt coloured that perception and that magical name certainly helps, it’s ultimately down to the Glasgow producer’s ornate approach to sonic texture and melodic structure. While on his debut album ‘Great Western Laymen’ [Planet Mu, 2010] he wobbled somewhere between dubstep and erratic electronica, not always successfully but always intriguingly, with his new album ‘Tragicomedies’ he has carved out a world with such maturity and intimacy that it is hard to reconcile the two.
On ‘Tragicomedies’, out on Planet Mu on 24th September and streamable in full below, his melodies unfurl like leaves reaching towards an ever-shifting light source. Songs reveal themselves in acts, rather than any familiar verse/chorus or even build/climax form. Lead single Melpomene, which was Dummy’s song of the week back in June travels through several such acts, a startling metamorphosis that, to our contemporary ears, has the shock of the new yet also seems to speak to some other less structured time.
Currently based in Berlin where he made the album, Zygadlo was born and grew up in Glasgow where the seeds of his unbound aesthetic seem to have sprung. “Plucking at random, I have memories of being the only packed-luncher at primary school, discarding pâté sandwiches and going hungry,” he says over email when asked about memories from his formative years. “I have memories of annual egg hunting in Pembrokeshire. Grommets. Reluctant dance classes with one male contemporary and 20-odd older females. Public performances therein. The Dordogne. Chopin ballades. Audio adaptations of Laurie Lee. The sequential death of four grandparents. Noodling on the guitar. Friends; the shared revelations of alcohol, drugs and erections. Camping up the river; swimming incompetence. Zappa. Trading tape compilations with teachers. Erm. Cotton reels. Little forced upon me and consequently little to rebel against.”
Laurie Lee’s romantic celebration of pastoral life is something that is absolutely present on ‘Tragicomedies’. It’s there in the snowdrop chimes of Persephone, the sunshine and rain of An Introduction, and the village dreaming of Waltz For Daphnis whose titular honouring is of a shepherd who supposedly invented pastoral poetry according to Greek mythology. While the noble gaze of a trio of ancient Greek figures watch over the album – the aforementioned Daphnis, Melpomene and Persephone – drawing comparison with the exquisite experimentation and pop subversion of Julia Holter’s ‘Tragedy’, the tragicomedy of Zygadlo’s world is more rooted in modern day mishaps and struggles.
“It’s hard not sound wafty and vague but I just thought it was a really applicable polarity,” he says of the title. “Day to day, and entire, life is comprised of little t’s and c’s. And it has a theatrical connotation. When you’re writing about emotionally significant events, reinterpreting them, making sense of them, it’s rather like dramatisation. Maybe therapy too. Actually I thought I wanted to call it the ‘Penal Chamber’. The place where one serves their music-writing sentence. But it’s a bit mopey. And and and and penal sounds a bit like penis.”
That lightness and self-deprecating sense of humour crops up on the album too. On The Deaf School he somehow makes the potentially tragic line/circumstance “I think I’m losing my hearing” sound like the most jubilant thing ever. “You saved my life / How embarrassing” he sings on the title track, referring to a traumatic experience one night in Berlin that involved the broken window and pavement he sings of. “The drama made me a little selfish / that’s why I forgot to say thank you” he continues. While he’s vague on details, the feeling and story is all there – the thank you might be out of time but there’s no doubting its sincerity.
“I’m a Dentelle tailor by trade,” he says in response to a comment about the ornateness and embroidery to the texture of ‘Tragicomedies’. It’s hard to work out whether he’s joking or not but the cotton reels of his childhood leave it all tantalisingly ambiguous. The album almost feels alive, I venture, like moving fabric. Was it something he was aiming for? “I don’t really aim for anything at the outset. I just keep weaving, to continue the analogy, until I’m satisfied.”