Zu‘s Jhator is one of the early highlights of the spring season, a toothy, moody, cavernous record inspired by Tibetan funeral practices. These side-long tracks use repetition and propulsion to inspire a trance-like state. By the end, one feels as if one has said goodbye to a loved one in a meaningful, ancient manner.
The album begins with the twinned sounds of gongs and carrion birds, a foreboding combination until one learns more about the practice of sky burial. The spirit has left the body. The earthly remains are left on a mountaintop as compost and food. For those only learning about the practice here, sky burial may seem an awkward choice at best and disrespectful at worst. Yet the ecological and spiritual meanings are clear. The body is only a vessel, eventually an empty shell. In “A Sky Burial”, (Side A), throat singing and eastern instruments accompany the soul across the metaphorical river. The mood is respectful, the pace processional. In the final minutes, the bass bleeds dark gravity, attempting to hold the soul in place, while the violin of Jessica Moss (Thee Silver Mt. Zion) beckons it toward the ethereal plane. And then the gongs again, alone, tolling their final goodbye.
“The Dawning Moon of the Mind” begins in a lighter fashion, with acoustic strums. But soon the timbres of sitar and bass enter the fray. The implication is that the thoughts, like the body, are torn between heaven and earth. Is this life really but an illusion? Can we escape the physical plane? As percussive rubs dash speaker-to-speaker, one imagines the elusiveness of transcendence. As soon as one grasps the tail, it dissolves into water. In this piece, Zu creates the opportunity for the listener to enter a trance-like state: neither asleep nor awake, but fully aware. The synapses fire. The third eye opens.
At the halfway point, drums create a holy, chaotic cacophony. There is resistance, confusion. Then for a moment, all of it is cleared away. Synths wander the plastic grooves like untethered spirits. All they need is direction. And once again, the strings lead the way: out of the darkness, into the light, out of chaos, into order; out of confusion, into clarity. The wind whispers across the peaks. The spirit has gone; now the body has departed as well.
Zu has been recording for nearly two decades, but Jhator is unlike anything they’ve ever released. If you’re already a fan, this is a must-have; but if you’re not, prepare to be astounded. (Richard Allen)