Becoming All Things is a collection of hearty, introspective rock and roll full of musings and meanderings on the baffling minutia of everyday life. Opener “Snow in Berlin” is by far this album’s most enjoyable listen if you are looking for a laid back, “Indie/Western Swing/Melodramatic Popular Song,” which is how Zookeeper describes their sound. Chris Simpson, Zookeeper’s vocalist, songwriter and general mastermind, delivers a style that is at the very least intriguing. Becoming All Things is filled with strange and surreal lyrical landscapes, weighty crescendos and a flair for the musically unique. At most, there is real depth in the lyrics, and a sort of musical interpretation of the world around us.
The album loses momentum considerably with “On Madison Way’s” slow tempo, safe drumbeats, discordant rhythm guitar and Simpson’s own long, drawn out vocals. The lyrics seem to be reveling in a feeling of listlessness: “As science soothes us with what’s already happening / How every dream deflated empties / These junkyard ships will never even touch that sea / Can’t you see?” Unfortunately, what follows is “Trumpets,” which had me comparing the sound to an actual “pop” song, what with its safe and almost adult contemporary feel. “Ballad of My Friends” tries to recapture some of the magic of “Snow in Berlin,” but there isn’t much originality to the Wilco-esque, solid Americana sound of it. There is a quiet moment of repose with “Boy and the Street Choir,” and I appreciate the quietly raining cymbals, soft drumbeats and vocals reminiscent of The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy.
We are ushered forward with “Al Kooper’s Party,” which is an instrumental, one-minute interlude of Ray Manzarek style keyboarding and sixties-esque grooving. Then its on to the charging “Everyone’s a DJ,” “On High,” and the title track, “Becoming All Things,” which I felt were all proof of the potential Zookeeper has on future albums. Of course, I like all these tracks for different reasons, but that’s because they all deliver at least a bit of polished musical adeptness and lyrical complexity. Of special note is the calming guitar and slow, bedtime, full moon lilt of “On High.” There is an oblique romantic charm to this song, with pretty horns and soulful piano that give it a softly sweet quality. The aptly named “Becoming All Things” follows, and could have been the better choice for a closer. It’s evidence of the skill with which Simpson, et al create complex and moving compositions, complete with an open ambiance, almost as though you should be listening to it outside. Instead, “Born with Things To Do” is the final offering, and a last shot at the chilled out country rock that got me going in the beginning.
— Amanda Carnes