H.P. Zinker

  • H.P. Zinker
  • ... And There Was Light EP (Matador) 1989  (UK Roughneck) 1991 
  • Beyond It All (Roughneck/Fire) 1990 
  • I Don't Know What's Going On EP (UK Roughneck) 1990 
  • Hovering (UK Roughneck/Fire) 1991 
  • The Sunshine CD EP (Roughneck) 1991 
  • Mysterious Girl EP (UK Roughneck) 1992 
  • Perseverance (Roughneck/Thrill Jockey) 1992 
  • The Reason EP (UK Roughneck) 1992 
  • Staying Loose: A Compilation (Energy) 1993 
  • Mountains of Madness (Energy) 1995 

Raised and originally based in Innsbruck, Austria, singer/guitarist Hans Platzgumer and bassist/singer Frank Puempel had toured Europe with several bands (and managed prolific recording careers as precocious teens) before relocating to New York in 1989 as H.P. Zinker. Recorded with a drum machine, the six-song …And There Was Light — the first-ever release on Matador Records — opens with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Dancing Days.” From there, the weird original material fuses metal with classical, punk, jazz, folk and noise. The rumblin’ rockers and intricate, intriguing soundscapes would be a lot easier to take seriously in a voice that didn’t so unmistakably recall Elmer Fudd; still, the songwriting and imagination resonate long after the laughter subsides.

Beyond It All adds American drummer Dave (The Waz) Wasik and shows dramatic improvement on all fronts. The power-trio format enables Zinker to create looming, pristine riffs (not unlike Dinosaur Jr) amid the neo-classicism, shades of Sabbath and balls-out rock. Lengthy instrumental passages make for some startling updates on early-’70s progressivism but, unlike the icons of that genre, Zinker seldom wanders into excess or incoherence. Platzgumer no longer sounds like a cartoon, and the lyrics are likewise no joke.

After the dandy charms of The Sunshine CD EP (five songs, including a remake of the first EP’s “Sunshine,” Evan Dando as lead singer on the lovely “To One in Paradise” and a trio version of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”), the challenging ambition of Hovering contains the usual array of ideas and styles — from the sprawling “Das Testament” epic to the five taut minutes of Helmet-meets-the-Fall in “Our Precious Love” and the modest gentility of the wordless “Flug Nach Alpha Centauri.” Puempel then left Zinker to Platzgumer, who, with Wasik in tow, proceeded on unimpeded into the ’90s.

Adding them to a pair of ’91 leftovers, the duo recorded the title track of the skippable Mysterious Girl and an overly serious cover (except for Hans’ hairy guitar-solo coda) of Alice Cooper’s “Billion Dollar Babies” with a temporary bassist, then got ex-Skunk guitarist Stephan Apicella (dubbed Stevie Apathetic) to fill the slot on Perseverance. If Zinker’s third album is something of a retrenchment, it’s a successful one, setting the group on its own timeless island, where Creamy wah-wah, Dr. John’s funky gris gris swamp, spaghetti western weirdness and folk-rock — in both pompy and slackish variations — can all happily coexist. The inclusion of the EP’s “Mysterious Girl” provides a useful vintage pop element. Meanwhile, the happy reassurance of “Soulmate” balances some of tension that grips the breezy “Now That You’re Gone” (bad-news romance), “Warzone City” (urban crime) and “A Million Sparks Riding My Mind” (creative workaholism). The words’ emotional resonance with the music is nil, but that’s alright. When Platzgumer lobs lines like “I see the world through two eyes and they’re stoned” (which concludes “Should I explain the words of this song/You anyway won’t get the meaning”), how he opts to frame them is his business.

Although the trio’s bassist (Uvey Batruel) is new, the sound and concept of Mountains of Madness are old: the title track’s lyrics come from H. P. Lovecraft, the late English horror novelist. (For further study, Rudimentary Peni devoted a 1988 album to Lovecraft; his name was borrowed by a ’60s Chicago group; the Vaselines eulogized him in song.) Likewise, the hard-rock album expends all its stylistic energy in the cool packaging, leaving behind track-by-track eccentricity for a full-frontal Woodstock-zone guitar assault that favors the Mountain part of the title a whole lot more than the Madness. Not funny enough to be a joke and too silly/dated to be earnest, this is one forgotten time capsule item that could stand to be buried for a few more decades. Late the same year, Zinker buried itself and broke up.

The eighteen-track Staying Loose assembles tracks from the first three albums and four of the EPs (excluding the first, although half of its songs appear in versions from other releases anyway). A varied sampler with most of the band’s high points, it’s the most illustrative and accessible Zinker release to be had.

[Jem Aswad / Ira Robbins]