Zema – Z (2017) – Album PremiereI think the question is too often, “where do I go from here?” and not “how did I end up here?” It’s always about what’s next, what needs to be done, what’s lying just ahead. I’m perpetually focused on the place I can see, but can never reach. Why is this the case?“–Kegan Zema

Wry and witty, ZEMA‘s debut album Z (2017) explores listlessness in New York City through a 15 track lo-fi post-punk saga. All the parts are in place, boy fights anxiety/depression, throws his clothes on like a clock and wonders if there’s some more than the cycles we live in and eventual ennui.

Journalism Performs Live From Rough Trade – Photo By: Amanda Hatfield

Musically It’s filled with raw punchy guitars, compressed drum-machine loops, and gut wrenching distorted vocals. Songs like “Fuzz Buzz” and “I Don’t Care” leave much to the openness of the tone and rawness of Kegan’s vocals, but by midway through there’s a heart racing palpability within the grit of stacked guitars and pulse of drums with plenty of human moments that make this album instantly connecting for me and evocative of memories all over my favorite borough.

The track “Work” delves into a maniacal sound, paired over an almost hip hop-esque beat, it’s much more intimidating than parts of the record and in-your-face, while juxtaposed further is a vocoder making his vocals sound like a snake charmer.

There’s plenty of marrying of elements throughout Z (2017) that make it a strong full length record with less emphasis given towards its magnitude or verbosity as a “debut record.” As we discover, it’s not the goal, Z sticks to the camaraderie of a well crafted song in the ease and nostalgia of lo-fi rock.

“ZEMA” as nom de plume of course for Kegan Zema, is otherwise known to locals as frontman for indie rock group Journalism. Fans of the group recently enjoyed the successful release of Faces on Deadstare Records, so a solo record (and 15 tracks at that) all with disparate inspiration, is quite the feat if you ask me, especially if you consider as an artist how much one project can occupy your consciousness. Further examination reveals a therapeutic component that makes the record a far cry from the momentum of Journalism, in fact Kegan’s solo material feels more buttoned down from the pointedness of his mothership group, even with the distortion turned up.

Songs like Ur Tha 1 (Bachelorette)”, “My Anxiety”, and “Apocalyptic Love Song (Earth Emoji, Flame Emoji)”, really capture the creative stew Zema was manifesting onto wax, however with such a lo-fi tape-matic esthetic, the message could have easily been lost, it hardly feels that way with talk of anxieties and existential crisis on the radar lurking in the tracks crystalized here. There’s no flashy suits here to compensate, nor is there any “bathing” in noise to hide what comes out organically through the record in honest, ugly, and endearing life moments.

By now I hope you hear there is also a pop song present through out ZEMA’s new record, but like Marina once said: “The artist is present.” And I think in all it’s lack of polish, what shines the brightest is an individual hoping to have captured something in amber simply in its form, no sugar, just songs and a personal persistence as illustrated by the statement Kegan provided, “I think the question is too often, “where do I go from here?” and not “how did I end up here?” It’s always about what’s next, what needs to be done, what’s lying just ahead. I’m perpetually focused on the place I can see, but can never reach. Why is this the case?

Locals can prepare for a special treat as the dystopian rocker will unveil his project for three consecutive nights starting with this Friday 4/28 for the opening party, again on Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon.

Z (2017) will be an immersive multimedia installation presented in conjunction with the release of ZEMA’s album of the same name at Brooklyn venue Vital Joint. Featuring photos by Jeanette D. Moses, as well as a variety of original pieces, the exhibit provides consumers with a specialized listening environment for the sounds found on Z (2017). Hear the debut single “Ur Tha 1 (The Bachelorette)”, out now on all streaming services.

ZEMA – Photo By: Jeanette D. Moses

His full statement opened the door to where he was leading into writing Z (2017) and what that manifestation meant to him. 

“It’s easy to find the most straightforward answers, and they’re no doubt major contributors. Constant dissatisfaction under late capitalism and the ever-diminishing attention spans of the internet age are just two of the most likely culprits. But even these concepts can’t solely explain our aversion to quiescence and reflection.

This question, “where do I go from here?”, had been stifling me. The vague markers of success I was chasing after seemed like they were forever out of my grasp, overshadowing any past sense of accomplishment. Disillusionment with the music industry and glimpses behind the veil of the PR machine left me with little incentive to keep spending time and mental energy on my solo material.

But then I started writing with no intentions, no goals, no anticipation. The first three songs on Z (2017) were finished in one day, almost exactly as they appear. Much of it was due to a simple reframing — a little more reflection and appreciation; a little less longing and malaise. Yes, there have been mistakes along the way, and it’s understandable to always seek the bigger stage. But part of me is still just a kid in his bedroom, slamming on power chords and singing the first thing that pops in his head.

Z (2017) was born out of this idea that I could be fulfilled. By focusing on the present, I made something decidedly current, entirely immediate. It’s my every thought, digitally rendered and buried in distortion. It’s the anxiety of living in the future, set to a discordant soundtrack from the past.

Perhaps I should stop framing my life as a question at all. Maybe I need more of a mantra: “I’m here and I’m OK.” My internal dialogue has never been the most encouraging or inspiring — coming to terms with that has a lot to do with how I ended up here. But Z (2017) isn’t what’s next, it’s what’s right now.”