Album Review: ZX Electric – ‘Assortment 80-81’

As the UK eases cautiously/un cautiously out of lockdowns and isolation, this might not seem the best time to dive into heartbreak. But like a Cohen song in dark times or Joy Division in a breakup, finding ZX Electric and devouring his music provides some kind of gut wrenching comfort.

I know little about ZX Electric. I know he’s from Liverpool, England. I know he quietly produced, or may still be producing, a string of bedroom lo-fi postpunk albums, and I know Julian Cope is a fan. What little I know comes from someone who picked up a trove of lost music and pushed it on ZX’s behalf. I thank them for sending this to me.

This assortment of tracks takes a thin postpunk set up and carves out a desolate sound. Aging synths hum and squeal with that weak Telstar wail over backbones of muted guitar. There’s as much 60s folk as there is Young Marble Giants and it’s almost all stripped back and bare. Every track shows its age and its DIY set-up by the signs of home analogue recording. If this release was on tape you would forever be fooled into thinking your copy got twisted, but all of this adds to the dense feel of sadness that runs through this new compilation.

At the core of each song is the voice. It’s an unfiltered, unrestrained, un-prettied instrument that shakes down the death of a soul. It sounds like lonely got sung at low volumes in small hours onto songs never meant to find listeners. Too rough to be fragile, too shy to call crude, they’re the transportive part of each track. With touches of Tim Rose’s tremolo, words can drift through mic as they do in the mournfully lean ‘Turn It Off’, or move as if scared of their own sound and shadow in the synth-only ‘Saving Grace’ or ‘Battlefield’. They can strike up a guttural low-ended push in the guitar harshened ‘Moves In The Shadows’, or they can simply not be there, letting hushed detuned keys do the work.

‘Battlefield’ is the cleanest song on here, muted and calmed and pristine. Over cold simple synthsounds, that voice comes through clear and collected. It stays empty and stark and it moves you. On the side of the scale that hits ugly and angry, ‘Sorrow Story’ moves cluttered with the jangle and pop of overworked mics and guitar amps. And all through that range there’s the heartache, we don’t so much listen in as observe… keeping our fingers crossed for some happy.  

I don’t know what came of ZX Electric’s intimate forgotten albums, or if there will be more to come. I’m involved, touched and softened by these open-hearted songs with their roughness and mass imperfections.

Maybe his happy comes now that we’ve found it, now it’s out there and shared.         

This collection out now to stream and download. Find the best tracks and others from ROTR featured artists right here on Rats On Run Radio.