‘CHATTY MANDRILL VOLUME III’ is Zachary James Watkins’ exercise in unifying normally clashing sounds

Like the latest album's art, the Oakland experimental producer combines multiple genres without disrupting the overall beauty.
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A singer-songwriter from Boston, MA that also writes blogs about music from time to time. A loud and proud as fuck member of the Alt-Black, LGBT and autistic community.

These days, it seems people have either forgotten or failed to understand that album covers are supposed to tell you a lot about what’s inside a record. We can talk about the carelessness of a recent Drake album cover (people are still discussing the futility of CLB album cover to this day) or we can stare at the futuristic meticulousness of an album cover (pick one!) by genre-defiant composer Fire-Toolz. At the end of the day, it shouldn’t be any different from a book or movie cover or even an advertisement in a magazine. The least one should assume from a cover’s presentation is a sweet ambient stretch of sound, right? Maybe. 

On Zachary James Watkins’ CHATTY MANDRILL VOLUME III, the album cover boasts a collection of two-toned leaves or feathers wafting in the breeze and obscuring a baby blue backdrop. Much like this image, throughout the album, the Oakland experimental producer borrows sounds from one genre or another to create something exhilarating, if not interesting, enough to forego categorization. CMV3, is, to put it mildly, a product of mixing many different musical elements that might seem messy and risky on paper, but work out impressively.

An immediate blitz of synths ranging from a glittery twinkle to an icy glide over reverb-soaked drums is introduced from the start through the opening prismatic track, “Synthesize Dub.” After is the drum-heavy “L Boogie,” playing with a sample of hand drums while synth bass percolates underneath the track. It isn’t until the raw synth brass emerges to give the track occasional stabs of color.

Sometimes, the aforementioned clashing sounds aren’t in mixing different genre elements. It can be two conflicting moods at the same time. For example, “Beige House Hustle” is synthwave that, vibe-wise, falls right in between being spacey and being “mysterious” in tone. 8-bit keys wave like ocean water for a minute before emotionally huge synth brass swings from full of color to near dissonant.

“Lower Bottom Blues” sounds like what would happen if synthwave had been bathing in radioactive grime. Synth brass pads buzz like powerful tasers over chirping hi-hats before bright, distorted keys emerge, turning the track from dark and filthy into something melodically triumphant. Think of a slightly sun-warped Plaid composition. Also, if you somehow want to know what happens if you blended dancehall with hauntology—because why not—“Black Inversion” is the track to go to.

Like the leaves on the cover, the sounds from multiple genres clash, and yet, they do not get in the way of its tracks’ overall beauty. More examples are when “Far East Dirt Jungle I” blasts you with racing drum and bass rhythms while clashing with bright and skyward synth brass to turn the frantic energy into more of a burst of positive energy. Or “Treatment VI in Dub,” which is best described as an epic adventure in 8-bit synths and circular saxophone loops. Every minute out of eleven feels earned.

CHATTY MANDRILL VOLUME III is a grab bag of compositions. You never know what you will get, but whether or not you find such discoveries fascinating will rely heavily on your sense of audio adventure. What you come across should be its own reason as to why album covers are very important.

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