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CD Review: Zs' "XE" 

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The affronts and outrages of the experimental and noise genres are old news, the shock value largely spent, the victim pool reduced to a handful of John Tesh fanatics in central Illinois. The music itself now stands on its own as its original cultural impetus recedes into the yawn of revolutionary history. It is now an aesthetic like any other, fending for itself in a surprisingly crowded sliver of a commercial niche which widens slightly with the inclusion of club beats. This is good news for the prolific composer and guitarist Patrick Higgins, whose work alternates between strangely delicate contemporary chamber music and the noisy excursions of his project Zs.

Higgins and current fellow Zs Sam Hillmer (sax and pedals) and Greg Fox (percussion and electronics) are nothing short of poets of noise. Even in the most assaultive moments on Zs' new record, XE, a sense of delicacy, separation, and emotive purpose prevails. The sounds are palpable enough to pluck right out of the air—insect bots, stutters, broken industries, liberated cash registers. It is both minimal and balls-out. The steady, plucking rhythms of "Corps" play like the hit single, the bagpipe-like drone of "Weakling" like the ballad. XE was recorded at Higgins's Future-Past Studios in Hudson and is a natural kin of the kind of sounds that emanate nightly from the nearby Basilica. It ain't shocking, but it's damn good.

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