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Zookeeper
Becoming All Things
Belle City Pop!
www.zookeepersworld.com


Following through on the promise given on the Zookeeper self-titled EP released late in 2006, Chris Simpson and Co. have returned with a full-length record filled with the same loose, jangling rock that originally endeared us to his new project and a handful of earnest gems to fully round out his sound. On Becoming All Things, Simpson continues to build on the foundation he has laid throughout his years of blazing musical trails, from his noisy and raucous beginnings in emo wonderband Mineral to the shoegazey tastiness of The Gloria Record. In the slackly built collective Zookeeper, Chris Simpson returns a bit to his humble acoustic guitar beginnings and turns in a set of songs that rely more on heartfelt emotional presentation than the sometimes slick production and/or overwhelming sound of his previous outfits. Simpson is taking things back to the basics, the truth found in the song, but doing so with a panache that only a musical prodigy like himself would be able to pull off.

"Snow In Berlin" is a perfect example of the brilliant continuation of the Zookeeper EP, all rubbery-limbed jangles and edge-of-the-seat horn sections giving form to a solidly rollicking rhythm. The sound is loose and slightly bacchanalian, rewarding the listener with the same sort of gratifying joy that was previously experienced on tracks like "I Live In The Mess You Are". With a full-length record, Simpson gets the chance to give a wider performance, turning in some slower and more thoughtful songs than were found on the previous EP (with the exception of the weirdly rambling "Two-Part Invention"). "On Madison Way" has an almost prayerful quality to it's slightly off-key droning as Simpson breaks into the liturgical essence of the "Gloria". "Ballad Of My Friends" finds a jumping rhythm and band once more in full swing as Simpson directly channels the livelier spirit of Van Morrison and marries it to a country-ish vibe reminiscent of Josh Ritter's more rocking moments. The only thing really lacking from the song is a more R'n'B horn presence… the trumpet plays its role nicely, but a full four-piece horn section would drive the song the extra mile to perfection.

The album really opens up on the incredible "Boy And The Street Choir", a seven-minute exploration of soul and body that long-time fans of Simpson have been anxiously awaiting. Here is where Simpson's unique voice really shines, with light piano and synthesized strings that hearken back to the No Guru, No Method, No Teacher era of Van Morrison. The song is at once tender and reflective, all the while pushing the spirit forward to great things and recalling the heart into the shelter of the warm welcoming arms of love. This is the opus many have known waited inside the soul of Chris Simpson, and the realization of the hope is better than many would have guessed possible.

Following this great track is quite a task, but the band breaks things up with a Madchester-style jazzy instrumental interlude called "Al Kooper's Party Horn" before once more kicking things up into a lightly waltzing acoustic swing on "Everyone's A DJ". Simpson goes on to lay out some reflective slower tracks on the (once more seven-minute long) deliberate strains of "On High", which sounds like a lost track from the near-mythic Tofer Simpson Society. "Becoming All Things" is a stately lo-fi lullaby that tackles societal ills and personal demons in its stoic piano bits and purposeful rhythmic drone as Simpson relates the dilemma. "See, I gave my heart to some mad God, never cared for the incision/ And the prison's dark as I slip between these bars and breathe…" the song slowly builds in odd rhythms and guitar parts over the banjo and mandolin-like bits to a glorious climax worthy of being compared to the finest dynamism of The Frames before falling away to the quiet of sleep… The album finishes with the brilliant "Born With Things To Do", a bright tune filled with the kind of purpose that truly inspires the soul to reach for the great unknown, unknowable, and desired.

Zookeeper is quite simply Chris Simpson hiding behind nothing anymore. Stripped away are the fancy production tricks and walls of guitar feedback, revealing quite simply a man with a heart of gold that would like a few minutes of your time to tell you how he feels. Maybe those words will help you through your day or week, help you recover from something sad or frightful, or simply give you something to tap your foot to for a while. Regardless of exactly what you will personally take away from listening to Becoming All Things, the truth is that you'll take away a bit of the truth. And that is the greatest gift any artist can give to the world.

-David DeVoe


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