The Zim-Zims are—surprise—another fine guitar band from Davis, a place that knows about these things
“Heard this new CD by the Zim-Zims?” I’d asked another scribe who covers local music.
He answered with something about not bothering to check the Davis-based trio out because he could tell by its name that it most likely was another poppy-punk clone from the Blink 182-Sum 41 playbook, and he’d heard more than enough of those to last a lifetime.
Funny, I’d made the same mistake.
However, recalling an old aphorism, something about contempt prior to investigation leading to everlasting ignorance, prompted me to relent. Perhaps it was something about the band’s self-titled CD—the artfully arranged photographic elements on the cover, or the short, telegraphic song titles—that called out for at least a listen.
According to Jake Mann, the guitar-playing songwriter who pens and sings most of the band’s material, he got the name Zim-Zim from a ghost town near Lake Berryessa. “Probably involved in mercury mining back in the late 1800s,” Mann said. “I work with a lot of historic maps, and I saw it on one. There’s still a Zim-Zim Creek.”
Mann is currently a graduate student at the University of California, Davis; his interest in geography has led to him doing computer work on maps of area foothills, which is to say that his band’s name has nothing to do with Speed Racer-sourced cuteness or a Japanese anime fixation. “I guess there’s an Invader ZIM comic,” he admitted.
The Zim-Zims grow out of that aggie science-nerd fixation that has germinated a number of smart Davis guitar bands throughout the years, from Game Theory and Thin White Rope through Knapsack, Harvester and Chance the Gardener to the Lookyloos.
In places, the way Mann’s voice soars and flutters is reminiscent of the late Jeff Buckley’s final recordings with Tom Verlaine. But it’s his guitar work, backed by Mike Talbot on bass and Blair Trigg on drums, that gives the music the kind of abraded texturing that some people call post-punk—think Yo La Tengo uncomfortably transplanted to Creedence Clearwater country.
The Zim-Zims kicks off with one of the stronger one-two-three punches heard on a recent local recording. “Creosote Lane” is Mann’s impressionistic meditation on how suburban developments are chewing up prime farmland, specifically along the Interstate-80 corridor from Davis to Vacaville. “In the time since I got here as an undergraduate in ’92, I’ve seen a lot of change,” Mann said. “The town used to be dominated by bikes, and now everyone’s driving their cars because they live so far out.”
That song is followed by “Cooler” and “We’re Not Waiting.” The former sketches flatlander college life as a brew-fueled limbo. “That’s all there is out here, you know?” Mann said. “Porches, girls, beer, cigarettes and—what else?—sprawl.” The latter rides on a fat-string riff that would make a post-punk Brit band like Killing Joke quite jealous.
The rest of the album is decent, too. The band sounds much fuller than a trio—which Mann chalks up to studio experimentation, adding that perhaps it’s time to find a second guitarist to more closely duplicate the band’s recorded sound.
Mann, a native of Watsonville, moved to Davis to attend college, as did the band’s bassist, Talbot, from Benicia. The Zim-Zims’ drummer, Trigg, is from Sacramento. Mann came from a jazz background, playing standup bass in a trio led by a guy who was heavily into pianist Keith Jarrett. “I wasn’t that into indie rock when it was happening here,” Mann admitted.
The Zim-Zims were formed after Eric Ruud of Legubitron was putting together a Davis music festival called “Pollynation” in May 2002, and Ruud asked Mann to get something together. “He knew I was writing songs and recording,” Mann explained. The result was a band originally called the Tasters, which changed its name to the Zim-Zims because there was another Tasters in Southern California. Soon the Zim-Zims started playing in earnest, as often as they could, between Sacramento and San Francisco.
In fact, they have a couple of gigs coming up. There are far worse things you could do with your time.