Zoe Boekbinder has always been a creative, free spirit. Born on a farm in Ontario, Canada, Boekbinder’s family packed up its belongings and took off to America in a big red truck towing a trailer when she was four years old. After six long months of driving across the western part of the United States, staying at various Buddhist communes and trailer parks along the way, the Boekbinders finally settled in the Sierra foothills in Northern California. According to the eccentric artist, this period in her life marked the beginning of her career as a junk show preacher, and, from the content of her songs, is a large influence to her musical endeavors.
Before the singer/songwriter pursued a life in music, she lived for the theater, auditioning for every play in high school, and working as stage crew on any show she did not land a part in. This interest played an integral part in Zoe’s first musical outfit, Vermillion Lies, a project that incorporated folk, pop and cabaret created by her and her older sister Kim. The duo lasted five years before the sisters decided to part ways and focus on solo projects in 2009. The hiatus allowed Zoe to pursue her own music, and a year later, she released her first album, Artichoke Perfume.
This October, Zoe released Darling Specimens, an idiosyncratic, surreal sophomore album showcasing the young musician’s creative way of thinking and structuring songs. Like her first release, this album is a delightfully peculiar blend of folk and electro-pop, meshing quirky vocal structures akin to Regina Spektor with the experimental instrumentation of tUnE-yArDs.
The album begins with its first single, “Make a Mess,” a beautiful, powerful, nearly a cappella track backed by light percussion and trumpet, with Zoe’s saccharine sweet alto-ranged voice floating atop the instrumentation and additional voices. From there, the record shifts to a more folk structured tune, “Hollow Bones,” which incorporates acoustic guitar, trombone, and the musical saw—fitting instruments to complement the lyricist’s charmingly anomalous lyrical content, as she asks, “Can I take your intestines and make them into strings and stretch them over your hollow bones?”
Darling Specimens continues down this path of choral arrangements and off-kilter folk until midway through, where it shifts into a more electronic direction with the track “Seven Times.” This tune is a bit more upbeat than its predecessors and features looped vocals and percussion, as well as beats sampled by Zoe herself. The second half of the record switches gears from electro back to folk in a surprisingly seamless manner, as the listener’s real focus is on the songwriter’s beautiful vibrato singing of love and intestines and keeping body parts in formaldehyde.
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