AM Gold is half a good album with songs that will make you smile and laugh from note to note
You’re a punk rock fan. You’re scouring the bargain racks for come-ups and come along a CD stuffed with colorful, damn near psychedelic artwork. On the cracked plastic jewel case, a sticker that reads: Featuring Members of Lifetime. You freak the fuck out accordingly.
Lifetime. The band that means so much, that did so little and here they are putting music out into the world that could be equally as meaningful to their records Jersey’s Best Dancers or Hello Bastards. Mind you, Lifetime has since returned and put out another record since our rhetorical little scenario here is supposed to take place (remember your more formative years for God’s sake) but just go with it. So, you’re all atwitter, bippin’ and boppin’ to the register because this could be a dream, or maybe some other, tougher punk could swipe your prize from right out of your hands; you must exchange your parents’ dough for a record only you will listen to.
Then the guy behind the register says, “Nah, you don’t want this, man. It’s elevator music with Ari Katz (Lifetime’s vocalist) singing.”
You could kill this guy. How dare he. But instead you smile, hand over your money and take off.
The unfortunate thing about Zero Zero’s AM Gold is that it is in fact more or less elevator music with Ari from Lifetime singing. It also includes Dave Palaitis (of Lifetime) on guitar, supposedly, and Tannis Kristjanson (of Miss TK and the Revenge, also Katz’ wife) on keyboards. Recorded on a household PC using synthesizers like a Farfisa VIP 755, it’s a record-full of idiosyncratic synth pop that could, maybe should, be ignored.
But there’s something oddly endearing about AM Gold. Katz’ vocals are more or less punk rock melodies over 8-bitty, computer pop which makes things fairly interesting (see “True Zero” for the best example of this seemingly absurd combination). For the greatest example of elevator music, however, “Pink and Green” may have been written expressly for that purpose. All organ and rimshots, this thing could be slapped in any comedic elevator scene ever put to film and will add to the awkward, staring, chuckling affair. But “Pink and Green,” for all of its original silliness, can drop you into a trance-like state that makes the mishmash of rainbow in AM Gold’s cover art come to life and dance behind your eyelids.
Look, skip “Hello, How Are You?,” “Pep Sounds” and “Listen, Listen,” okay? It’s for the best. Even elevator music would be insulted to be in the same conversation with these tracks.
“Xanadu” works just fine as an instrumental exercise, but it’s “Back to Hell” that makes the fairly convincing case that Zero Zero isn’t just a vanity project. (It is a vanity project, but not just). This track is so bizarre with it’s somewhat driving, somewhat off-time lo-fi drum beat and a synthesized horn section that just can’t be in key that it’s impossible not to listen. It’s absurdity is enjoyable. That it stays just this side of the cacophony line shows a level of control and calculation that was questionable up until this point. But then AM Gold continues with “Speed Garage,” which adds some distortion, some fun and, ultimately, a memorable garage rock/synth tune that is worth a listen any time.
And once you get to “D Minus,” which is more or less a Postal Service-inspired piece of beauty covered in quirk and topped with a wink and a smile, you can say, yes, AM Gold is elevator music—but it’s not just elevator music, and some of it is pretty good. Yes, this is in fact a vanity project, but it’s executed with enough tongue and cheek to make it unpretentious and endearingly odd. And, yes, as a punk rock fan, you’ll hate it on the first spin.
But AM Gold is half a good album with songs that will make you smile and laugh from note to note. It’s not for everyone, and it’s certainly not for the punk rock fan scouring the bargain rack. In fact, I’d venture a guess that Zero Zero made this record for no one else but themselves. But this is a record that will make the cut every time you’ll want to unload some of your physical knickknackery. It’s a record you’ll come back to from time to time and enjoy for what it is. And, really, what else can you expect from an album discarded by someone else that just so happened to land in your hands on a random visit to the record shop? Not much at all. And Zero Zero’s AM Gold is certainly worth more than that.