Zack Stefanski is the rare artist who can truly surprise you with his music. Where one moment you have deeply introspective moments build on choral vocals and a freak folk sensibility. He quickly upsets that though, introducing electronic elements including manipulated vocals, drum machines, and warbling synth work. It’s hard to pinpoint the origin point of any track, whether it was constructed around a singular motif, or collaged together piecemeal. Stefanski draws from a depe well of dreamy, thoughtful indie rock that includes bands like Grizzly Bear, Radiohead, and, surprisingly, The Dismemberment Plan. He isn’t afraid to introduce elements of funk or dance into otherwise sober musical moments, a delightful swerve from expectation.
It’s his ability to play with that expectation that informs Fancy Boy, his sophomore release. There is an almost 80’s aesthetic to the tonality of the instrumentation, with brittle and singed guitar tones over top of jangly, almost chorused out guitar bits. Add to that ethnocentric polyrhythms and a recurrent appearance by a horn section, and Stefanski is channeling a little Paul Simon. Color that with a little Adrian Belew for good measuring, the kind of tasteful guitar solos that flitter in and out, less a show stopper than a showpiece. Taken as a whole, Fancy Boy is a clever nod to a wide swath of musical history, without ever seeming beholden to anyone thing.
Stefanski’s musical vocabulary is handy on tracks like On Your Own, a track that bounces with a New Wave inflected bass line, the centerpiece for him to work around. His voice is clear and evocative with an aching honest. The subtle outro of strummed harp-like instruments and synths recalls the darkest hours of the Swans, an interesting choice as Stefanski barrels into Blurry, easily the breeziest opening number on the album. Per usual, that track takes a turn into the moody, a mantra less against contentedness and more for careful introspection, the hallmark of his music.
The closing tracks, Devil in the Detail and The Fool, round out a stellar affair, energetic and mutated, a continuously moving target that’s hard to hit in both case. Stefanski’s music is rarely as exotic as here, which is either indicative of burying the odder numbers at the end, or bold for going out on a comparably stand out moment. He takes a lot of risks on the album; you can hear the near-microscopic changes that go into individual instruments, the tedium involved in tweaking the sounds just right, and it yields a satisfying reward, unlike much else in the city.
Listen below and hear for yourself what I’m on about.