This blog will feature reviews of local artists’ albums and shows. First on the chopping block is one Zaq Pariah.
I met Zaq at a house show in Akron a few years back. I was going to see CARE play- they were the ones who founded Love Fest, the now-huge festival that hits Chardon Square every summer. I actually went to the show with Lea, who runs that fest now.
Zaq very briefly played acoustic after his buddy’s band finished their set. He was talented enough to keep my attention, but admittedly strange. He did have great hair, I remember that much. Then, I spotted Lea talking to him at the kitchen table. He was drawing weird patterns on napkins with a permanent marker, and rambling about some-odd I can’t recall. I thought he was weird as hell- and then he told me to listen to his recorded music.
Yeah, alright, I thought. But I added him on social media, and stumbled onto his Bandcamp about a week later.
Talk about a happy surprise.
I started by listening to his first 5-song demo, Slept To Death. It apparently details the story of the 19-year-old son of a world-renowned sheep veterinarian as he falls into love he’s too afraid to reveal, and so proceeds to write songs about it. Then, to fund his band, he starts selling his father’s stash of sheep tranquilizers on the black market, resulting in a sudden swell of people ‘sleeping to death’.
And, oh yeah, he tells this story in reverse chronological order.
So, knowing that much, would you believe me if I told you this is arguably my favorite Cleveland local album of all time?
Holy cow, do I love this thing to death.
To start, there’s Pariah’s production decisions. The thing’s really just a demo, but it’s a really high-quality demo. There are layers and layers of instrumentation, full live drumming, and multi-tracked vocals. Unless you’re trained and listening specifically for the few little discordant moments, you won’t find them.
Then, there’s his songwriting. By god, Zaq Pariah can write lyrics. Try this tongue-twister:
My favorite t-shirt was the one we wore to college
My favorite teacher was the one with the frown, with the hair
And though you load me onto docks with salvaged luggage
I never was inclined to sink, or to link lick to spit
Saliva diaries of judges’ umbrage, bummer
But by the book, a cook could look at the time on a lime
Oven Dutch insomuch as under rumpled number
And back in Holland holler
Botch and rot”
– from “Egadspeed”
Whoa! You don’t find stuff like that on every local demo you pick up.
Okay, Zaq, I’ll admit, the first song that really sucked me in was the big hit pop-rock number. “Local Daisies” is still in my top 4 Pariah songs, and it’s totally justified. “The little engine that could is now a train wreck.” It’s funny, it’s catchy, it’s heavy, it’s anthemic- it’s a sing-along number about dying on sheep tranquilizers! Who ever thought something like that could be so downright fun?!
But the real best song, the one that grew on me over the next couple months until it became one of my favorite love songs ever, is the closer. Technically, that makes it chronologically the first part of the concept’s story.
On Spotify, it’s listed as “Flames,” but when I was introduced to it, it was called “Phlegms,” a gross joke tacked onto a real piece of musical beauty. I wish it kept the name in transition, because twists like that define what Pariah means to me, but alas, I’ll settle for a seriously gorgeous hard rock song with a now-serious name.
Will eventually get the best of me
Feelings from breaching necessity
A false start
A lost heart
And we’ll never really meet, we
Didn’t know we had a
My eyes dance at your name
This can’t be contained
I wish we were flames
I’d die wrapped around you
I wish we were flames
– from “Flames”/”Phlegms”
It’s a stretch to make touching, emotional hard rock songs. The ones that do exist are special. Think “Everlong,” “November Rain,” “Tangerine,” “Cinnamon Girl,” “Still Loving You”.
I insist that “Phlegms” is a love song of that same unspeakable quality. It portrays deep, painful emotion using imagery that is understandable though grandiose. “My eyes dance at your name… I’d die wrapped around you…” It’s such a strong sentiment, it burns, and he wants to translate that burn and express it as passion, rather than having to keep it trapped inside himself, and inside the vessel that is this song.
It’s a towering analogy, which might fall in on itself if it wasn’t supported by such an interesting and skillful instrumental. Pariah’s guitar playing is dexterous, to say the least. And rumor has it he played all the other instruments on this too, including the excellent drumming.
I’m going to keep this review constrained to Slept To Death, but it’s worth mentioning that his other material is just as accomplished- though, beware, as Zaq Pariah proves again and again that he doesn’t want to do the same thing twice. His next release, MacDemo™, is another 5-song effort- but none of those songs sound the same, and none of those songs sound like Slept To Death. Really, it’s fine, and I listen to MacDemo™ about as much as this one. It’s sort of funny, in a twisted way. I’ll review it in detail, later.
In the meantime, I strongly recommend Zaq Pariah’s Slept To Death demo. It’s one that grew on me, stuck with me, and now is infinitely stuck in my head. A+