Title: Cardboard City
Artist: Zack Villere
Label: Independently released
Released: 14 February 2020
“Sometimes I feel like I'm alright
But in the back of my head, I think that I might be dying
When it feels like the end, I want you to hold me close”
Zack Villere’s latest release “Cardboard City” is an album full of really interesting textures and ideas. It almost feels like an artist’s test canvas; lots of experimentation, but without much in the sense of structure. This makes for some excellent moments, some not-so-excellent moments, and a lot in-between. Zack’s potential is extremely promising, and even though he seems to still be finding his footing, I think many of the best aspects of “Cardboard City” could translate really well to make his future releases great. And while this album as a sum of its parts doesn’t work quite as well as it could, mostly due to lack of variety, it still has some solid moments and tracks.
The album starts off okay with the track ‘Superhero Strength’. It has a decent build-up, using a variety of synths, piano and bass to create a rich soundscape. But unfortunately, it doesn’t have a particularly satisfying structure; something that much of the album suffers from. However, the next track ‘Grateful’ is actually one of the exceptions to this, and is one of the few songs I’ve found myself revisiting. Zack has some minor vocal difficulties towards the end of the song, but on the whole, it feels properly developed and complete. But as ‘Grateful’ shows Zack at his most coherent, the following track ‘Hair Cut’ demonstrates that much of what he’s experimenting with still needs space to grow.
‘Hair Cut’ really feels like Zack has thrown too many underdeveloped ideas together into a track without proper integration or development. There are some parts that might have landed better in other songs, but most of the experimental choices unfortunately feel like they should have been left at the drawing board. Most notably, the piercingly high synth notes, as well as the strange sheep sample that he insists on constantly using, really don’t pay off at all. In a track with a loose structure as it is, these just act as even more of a disservice. On the other end of the spectrum, however, ‘Sore Throat’ is a really charming track that feels much more complete due to a commitment to its musical concepts. The contrast between the warm guitars and the harsher synths is really interesting, and is something explored further in the next track, ‘Knockout’, which actually delivers some really dissonant harmonies in the synth lines. It’s difficult to tell whether it was intentional, but either way it still makes for some relatively interesting sounds.
“Am I falling in love or just falling apart at will?
Sometimes I feel like we're not meant to be but I know I'm wrong
I wish I knew what it was
I wish I could shut it up”
And while the instrumentals on “Cardboard City” are often quite rich, something that begins to get fairly old by the end of the project are Zack’s vocals. By the time the first feature on the album from J’von comes along, the lack of variety in Zack’s singing has already worn quite thin. I can’t help but compare his vocal style throughout this album to bearface’s from BROCKHAMPTON. But where bearface is utilized sparingly throughout BROCKHAMPTON’s music to create variety, the oversaturation (no pun intended) of this style in “Cardboard City” actually has the opposite effect. In the future Zack could really benefit from either exploring more vocal registers, or bringing in some extra features to create a more diverse range of sounds. This isn’t to say Zack’s voice is bad at all, and there are some moments where it really shines here. But it really starts to wane as it’s used in exactly the same way, song after song.
Because of this, the features from J’von and Dijon are extremely welcome changes of pace. The songs they contribute to are some of the more memorable moments on the album, and along with a nice reprisal of ‘Sore Throat’ in the second half of the record, help add a sense of structure and pacing to the album. Despite this, “Cardboard City” really does start to blend into itself, and once the relatively underwhelming final track, ‘Snoopy’, finishes, it leaves the record without a whole lot to grab onto.
As I said, though, much of the musical experimentation on this album still works pretty well. And although it feels more like a swatch-board of musical concepts rather than a fully-developed record, “Cardboard City” feels like a decent stepping stone to more focused projects from Zack. He needs to focus more on diversifying his vocals, but definitely has the potential to create some great musical soundscapes. While “Cardboard City” might not be a particularly great album on its own, it has the building blocks for something more substantial which I really hope we end up hearing from Zack. And if he can develop some of the ideas here by adding more structure and variety, I think it’s possible that he could make something great with his next release.
“I was laying down in the bed
You were in the bathroom cutting your hair
I came in the room and you said
You cannot look but I already did
Felt like I was only under the impression that she loved me”
Reviewed by Layton Bryce - 28/07/20