*Editor’s note: You will find many superlatives in this review. You may question the high percentage of charged adjectives, but it is advisable that you take them at their, ahem, word.
Zookraught just might be the best and hardest working band in Seattle right now. And it’s gobsmackingly obvious that Stephanie Jones, Sam Frederick, and Baylee Harper are pouring their all into this project. The band has been rising meteorically in the local scene, and their exponential artistic growth has been a joy to watch: every show that Zookraught plays is better than the last. And case in point, right on time comes their new EP: GRIP IT SHAKE IT.
Zookraught leans hard into the DIY punk scene, playing house shows galore, playing shows under bridges, and silk screening all of their own merch. They are beloved by the underage crowd and it’s a very reciprocal relationship. Their sound is fresh and their sound is youth. But not to worry: everyone, everyone, EVERYONE is welcome. When you listen to GRIP IT SHAKE IT, you’ll find yourself pulled in by highly accessible moments that lead to full-on, beautiful, scribbling-in-the-coloring-book walls of sound so intricate and dense that you’ll be caught in their web for some time to come, lost in wonderment. Also, if you aren’t keen to head to a house show, you can find Zookraught at regular venues, too. More on that in a bit.
GRIP IT SHAKE IT begins with “Canvas Eyes” and a synth that wobbles wildly, like a wacky, happy heartbeat. And then the drums begin. And here I’m already obliged to shout the praises of Baylee Harper from the rooftops: she is ridiculously talented. Every single time I’ve been at a Zookraught show someone next to me just starts going off about how good she is. They’re right. She’s simultaneously right on time and all over the place, and then, when playing live, those faces she pulls. I don’t know how she can get better but she has a lot of time ahead of her to surpass Keith Moon.
Oh my goodness, “Canvas Eyes.” So Harper starts attacking the kit like a feral demon. And then Sam Frederick comes in with this absolutely throbbing guitar riff. Now, I’ve spent the least amount of time watching Frederick do what they do out of the three, but what I’ve seen and heard has been fantastic. They play in a way that renews your idea of what guitar playing sounds like, what guitar playing can look like. If you happen to see them in person, you may see Frederick hold the entire guitar by gripping the strings in their teeth. None of this is a gimmick. Frederick is incredible.
Alright…so we’re about twenty seconds into “Canvas Eyes” (oops). And now these ethereal “oooooooohs” tether things back down along with a bass line that is complex yet solid as a rock. That’s Steph. I’ve been watching Stephanie Jones in her various band incarnations since 2017, and she’s one of the most driven musicians I’ve ever met. Jones has created her dream band in Zookraught, and from the outside at least, it looks like a little band utopia. Everyone sings. Everyone is at the top of their game. Everyone contributes. And everyone is pushing forward. And this EP is a perfect example of this. Oh yes, we’re reviewing an EP here.
“Canvas Eyes” is the lead single off of GRIP IT SHAKE IT and it truly is the quintessential introduction. Those first thirty seconds suck you into the swirling center of Zook-ness as Harper shouts what feel like stream of consciousness lyrics:
This empty canvas head is full of paint
This empty canvas head is all technicolored
These empty canvas eyes are black and grey
An empty canvas tongue that cannot stand the taste
You should really watch the video, it helps:
“Bank” features Frederick on lyrics, and they also shout with gusto over a robotic-sounding, circular guitar riff. You start to get the sense that this trio doesn’t do anything by half measures. They’re full-on, all the time. And you wouldn’t be wrong. The chorus barrels along as all three harmonize, wondering whether the subject of the song can “cash that check you’re writing.” I kind of pity the person that this song is about, yet at the same time I thank them because “Bank” rocks.
“No Corner” is another banger, this time sung by Jones, and its musicality is a complete antithesis to its subject matter. The lyrics speak to the age-old worry of any artist: that it’s all been done before, how can anyone create anything with originality? The crux of the song is in the chorus, and it’s nuts:
I can say it’s all been done before
I can’t think my own thoughts anymore
No corners left in my mind, no corners left to explore
The reason it’s nuts, dear reader, is that this chorus is sung and supported musically in a way that I know I’ve never heard before, escalating *up and up* and then crashing down, down, down, hard. If being original is something the band is particularly concerned about…I really don’t think that they need to worry.
“Catwalk” swaggers, and Frederick sings it in a way that makes it seems like they’re swallowing their own words, if that makes sense at all. Jones’ bass grumbles at floor level, sounding particularly evil and great. On an EP full of anthems, this feels like an anthem’s anthem: chants that go in rounds, and there’s a total noise breakdown at the end, placed perfectly for crazy moshing. This song explains why Zookraught call themselves a “dance-punk” band.
“Your God” is at turns the most melodic song of the bunch and the most thrashy. Jones sounds like an angel as she goes on a diatribe against religion. I mean, most of the time, anyway, when she’s not sounding like a fury-filled punk goddess herself. Guitar folds around Jones’ vocal like intricate origami during the verses, which becomes crumpled and pulverized during the various interludes. Zookraught’s music is rarely straightforward, which might be off-putting for those who prefer an easier listening experience. For those with a sense of adventure, however, it’s very rewarding.
“Pariah Dog” closes GRIP IT SHAKE IT, and it’s a punk rock implosion: I get the sense that this is a song about anxiety, both because of the words and the music. It’s a frenetic track, with shouting and chanting and psychotic sounding instrumental breakdowns that include acid-washed saxophones courtesy of (sax about town) Sam Morrison and Johnny Unicorn. This is probably the most difficult song of the bunch, but it has particularly fun moments (Fall (fall) Push it (push it) Run it up (run it up, up, up) Because it never really mattered won’t you Fall (fall) Lose it (lose it) Run it out (run it out, out, out goes the infectious chant). As the EP winds down to its finish, it starts to feel like a machine going through a gear breakdown. A crazed wall of noise that ends with a crash. Phew.
One thing that I cannot recommend enough is to go see Zookraught live. It’s a transformative experience and if you’re on the fence I urge you to get off and get to one of their shows. And you’re in luck: Zookraught is playing The Tractor this Friday, August 11th, to celebrate the release of GRIP IT SHAKE IT and also the start of their first full US tour, which goes for an entire month. Tickets are just $11 and also includes the pleasure of seeing openers Black Ends, Rat Queen, and Velvet Q. GRIP IT SHAKE IT is in the running for best local release this year, folks. Time to do some homework.