Tris McCall's assessment for NJ.com
--- "Trouble is, even though all genres aspire to classic status, making "classic rock" isn't really a viable commercial enterprise. Band-pigeonholers, marketers, and riyl-ers don't know how to work with it, and rock critics will resent you for making their jobs harder and duller. The head honcho at Serious Business Records tried to sidestep the issue by describing Higgins as the "classy" rock, which is literally true: Zs plays like it was recorded by unabashed musical aristocrats. No concessions whatever have been made to the marketplace - instead, they're out there chasing rock excellence in its Platonic form.
Now, nobody loves the local emo-pop kids more than I do; they're venerated around here, and for good reason. They're brave enough to give voice to generally-held, valid human sentiments that the cool people want to smirk out of existence, and for that, they've got both my thanks and my ears. But I am also a lover of music in its pure form (and yes, I do believe that exists), and I cannot deny that Kevin Fish crams more musical ideas into a single verse of a Higgins song than the members of Houston Calls and Hidden In Plain View and Jet Lag Gemini and Saves The Day have had in their entire lives. In fact, let me go out on a limb and say that if North Jersey has produced a truly musical genius in the past decade, Fish is that guy. Ironically, it is because pop is such a glorious and wonderful thing that musical genius is so rarely appreciated: when a red guitar, three chords, and the truth is all that is required to scale the heights of greatness, Beatlesque innovation is hardly needed. It is nice that Higgins have lately found some modest recognition for their sustained excellence, but that's almost beside the point: if pop music was truly the meritocracy that the most fatalistic contingent of the record-making public thinks it is, Kevin Fish would be king of the hill.
Luckily for the rest of us, pop music isn't a meritocracy, nor is it a game to see who can come the smartest. But just for the sake of argument I'm assuming that you're the type of listener who is wild about record albums, who really digs into them and gets dirty with them; and if that's you, I can't recommend Zs to you enthusiastically enough. There's enough going on here to merit scores of repeat listens, and you don't have to invest in a thousand-dollar pair of headphones to get hypnotized. The album's excellence might not be instantly apparent, though: Fish is an understated guy and a reserved lead vocalist, and while he's as deft at writing melodies as anybody you'll ever come across, he's far too classy (there's that aristocratic comportment again) to hit you over the head with one.
The first thing you'll probably notice about Zs is that just before the set ends, the musicians stop the proceedings cold for a three-minute drum solo. Let me be more descriptive: they stop the proceedings for four consecutive solos, each one performed by a different member of the outfit. On paper, this sounds self-indulgent, but in practice it's hellaciously entertaining, and not merely because nothing else on the set has prepared you for such a blatant show-off move. It turns out that the members of Higgins are, on top of everything else, truly engaging drum soloists - including Fish himself, who makes the most of his turn on the skins. "Charly", the track that follows the artillery barrage, is the set's most arresting: Brian Kantor's drums segue straight from the solo without flagging for a second, and Kevin Fish and Brian Kauffman overdrive their cabinets to keep pace. The next thing you know, the guitarists are soloing in unison, one in each stereo channel, and stopping short to let the vocal harmonies spill into the gaps like warm caramel. It sounds like Ray Davies fronting Mott The Hoople (no kidding), and it's merely the most obvious sign that, yes, we've really got something cooking here. On the next track, they split the band one more time, letting Kantor drum in the right speaker as producer Travis Harrison pounds away in the left; the whole cast is ushered back onstage, and everybody oohs and aahs over violins, horns, woodwinds, harpsichord, and anything else they've got crammed into their practice space. Thus, in a shower of twinkling sonic confetti, the disc ends.
And so you play it again, and as you do, you realize what you missed the first time around. There's "Yes I Know", a remarkable Revolver-era George Harrison fake. There's the hushed "Write It Down", a track decorated with a string arrangement worthy of the Left Banke. There's the gorgeous "Wall Of Dumb", Fish's only slightly recalcitrant tale of humility learned and lost. Best of all is "Ok", a song that begins at the doorstep of Grateful Dead's Mars Hotel, and wanders over the fluorescent hills into spectral fairyland. Some will point out that "Jamy" and "There He Is" prove that Kevin Fish is more a latter-day High Llamas junkie than a Beach Boys true believer. But that ignores the very real contributions that Sean O'Hagan has made to our understanding of Brian Wilson's work; and in any case, Fish does O'Hagan at least as well as O'Hagan does Smile. Jersey rock aficionados (and drum nuts) will recognize Brian Kantor's name from the credits of many well-loved indie records; his parts are always imaginative and rock-solid, and Zs is his crowning achievement. It's a testament to the band's McCartney-esque perfectionism and commitment to quality control that even the walk-on players shine: Annie Nero's slipper-soft cello chug on "Always Something", Harrison's frenetic tambourine on "Yes I Know", Scott Gropper's towering Hammond on "Charly". Together they've made one of the best records of 2008, and better yet, they know it. Ratify that or not, it won't shake their faith; that's the aristocratic privilege. "
Tris McCall --- NJ.com
"Kevin Fish could be John Lennon reincarnated
. Softly crooning in his golden tenor, Fish sings in what sounds like a dreamy British accent, belying his New York heritage. Heading Higgins, a collective of musician friends since 2002, with drummer Brian Kantor, Fish has composed an album of songs ranging from Beatles piano rock ("Wall of Dumb"), dreamy 1960s multi-part Beach Boys harmonies ("Always Something"), and lo-fi instrumentals with monstrous feedback and drumming ("Prelude to a Charly") and Led Zeppelin- inspired riffs and bass-lines ("Charly"). Sometimes their AM gold sounds deliciously yacht rock, as in “Jamy”, recalling the smooth jazz flow of Steely Dan’s “Aja”. Steely banjo enters to make this piece somehow down home. Amidst the classic rock sound is a band with its own quirks well-worth exploring."
, Sarah Moore
"Higgins. Zs. The triumphant Big Star guitar chords of "There He Is" signal the beginning of Higgins' excellent album Zs, perhaps the best record yet from the standout, critically-acclaimed young record label Serious Business. Higgins is a lovely pop band influenced by seventies-era power-pop and AM radio fare. It's songwriter Kevin Fish's lyrical proficiency that has led to such a well-executed melodic result for the six-member band.
"Yes I Know," with its sterling guitars and wonderfully chiming chorus, is one of the record's most memorable moments, while monster epic "Charly" (complete with its own prelude) is an acid-drenched psych-pop track soaked in dense guitars and rolling organs. On the slower end of things, the wistful "Write It Down" and "Ok" recall Third/Sister Lovers-era Big Star. Higgins harbours an unusually consistent devotion to the music of yesteryear. Rarely does Fish integrate more recent influences into Zs' eleven songs. Although "Wall Of Dumb" is distinctly reminiscent of the Magnetic Fields, this disc as a whole has a remarkably consistent 'classic' vibe. The only other constant is the record's level of quality. Zs is an unquestionably satisfying release."
-Michael Tau - The McGill Tribune
"Higgins-Zs. I featured this NYC band a while back when they had a teaser mp3 out from this disc, and now that the full-length is out, they're worth revisiting. In many respects they fit the classic power pop paradigm, but with little quirky twists here and there. Opener "There He Is" illustrates this dynamic, with its George Harrisonesque flavor and its ability to never quite go where you expect it. The playful "Always Something" channels Jellyfish in spots while "Wall of Dumb" is right up Sir Paul's alley and "Write It Down" recalls some of Alan Parsons Project's slower numbers."
-Absolute Power Pop
"Higgins does a pretty credible job of mining the Emitt Rhodes/Beatles/High Llamas sound and then twisting it around so it no longer resembles a retro one trick pony. Lead singer Kevin Fish has a vocal timbre that recalls both Andy Partridge and Ray Davies at once. The Opener "There He Is" sounds like it fell off of Badfinger's "No Dice" with it's warmly laid down harmonies and memorable laid back riffs. "Always Something" then mixes a few other influences here, like a Kinks ballad, a lamented Fish intones "There is always something to keep someone from loving me." Using bits of McCartney-styled piano flourishes in "Wall of Dumb" it also evokes the Bearnaked Ladies self-effacing humor in a gentle baroque way. "Jamy" uses its horns and banjo in that subtle Beach Boys nod with lazy sounding percussion section that ends the song off like it was played by a group of stoned musicians. Up to this point, Higgins does it's best to keep the sound intimate, and that's when it's pure pop master stroke is revealed in "Yes I Know" with it's XTC styled dualing guitar parts, and multi-part harmonies. It dials down to a sentimental violin lead in "Write it Down" - one thing for sure, this album is not predictable at all, because it drives off the Prog Rock cliff with a psyche-pop drum solo in "Prelude To Charly" and then the trippy "Charly" with it's meaty riffs and wild bass lead melody. Mixing all these dramatic elements is the last song "Everybody (Thunder Mountain)" and like the ending of "Strawberry Fields Forever," I half expected to hear "I buried Paul" buried somewhere... Overall this is a very special album, that will please retro pop enthusiasts, like a puzzle box of influences that requires multiple listens to appreciate fully."
"The triumphant Big Star guitar chords of "There He Is" signal the beginning of Higgins' excellent Zs, perhaps the best record yet from the standout Serious Business label. The songwriting project of Kevin Fish, Higgins is a lovely pop band influenced by seventies-era power-pop and AM radio fare. Although a hefty six band members make up the core of the band, it is Fish's songwriting proficiency that has led to such an extensively well-executed melodic result.
"Yes I Know," with its sterling guitars and wonderfully chiming chorus, is one of the record's most memorable moments, while monster epic "Charly" (complete with its own prelude) is a acid-drenched psych-pop track soaked in dense guitars and rolling organs. On the slower end of things, wistful "Write It Down" and "Ok" recall Third/Sister Lovers era Big Star. Despite their existence in the twenty-first century, Higgins harbours an unusually consistent devotion to the music of yesteryear. Rarely does Fish integrate more recent influences into Zs' eleven songs. Although "Wall Of Dumb" reminds me distinctly of certain Magnetic Fields material, this disc as a whole has a remarkably consistent 'classic' vibe. The only other constant is the record's level of quality - Zs is an unquestionably satisfying release, and one of the year's best at that. You know what to do"
Matt Shimmer, Indieville
"Apparently this bunch, led by main songwriter Kevin Fish, have been around in one form or another since 2002 and while he has plenty of help it's Fish's baby. And boy is it an ambitious effort and a good one. I'm enjoying this new renaissance where bands like Higgins, The Rollo Treadway and Blue Skies for Black Hearts are aiming for lush, melodic efforts like their forefathers (The Beatles, The Zombies, etc.). There's plenty to lie on Zs and to find you need to listen to it"
Tim Hinely, Dagger ezine
"Higgins write songs. Higgins compose music. Higgins are performers. Higgins is a band.
My, how Higgins have grown. No really. What used to be two has now grown to six. You would think there should be the obvious signs of growing pains or the usual good and bad traits exhibited by most large families. Higgins have somehow escaped the expected and as always never do the obvious. In this day and age of studio trickery the possibilities are endless when it comes to recording sounds to tape. In most cases the magic of the ones and zeros in the digital realm expands those options to the ends of the Universe. Not so for Higgins. The band is home in the studio and the musicians interact as friends and family would. There is a mutual respect and admiration amongst the musicians and this is no better represented then by simply listening to Zs. A typical Higgins composition is complex and deep with similarities to such greats as David Axelrod, Brian Wilson, Richard Evans, and the like. Higgins get the most out of each musician because they would not have it any other way. Live they are raw and real. Raw like an exposed nerve and not like a drunken Punk band. On stage the band performs as a well oiled machine. Their performances have enough loose moments to separate studio from club. The connection the musicians have to the music and to one another is awe inspiring and is sure to send a chill down your spine. These are performances that as a musician you can only hope to one day be a part of and as a fan you know years later you will proudly detail how, you were there.
Making comparisons of one sound to another or one band to another is only useful if the listener, reader or audience know the points of reference. To make obvious comparisons to Higgins seems unfair. There is something in their sound that harks to a more professional time in the world of music. A time when all musicians were musicians and schooled or rehearsed as such. This and this alone does not make a great band. Look to the rawest and best of Punk and Garage bands and you will know that professionalism is not even last on their list of priorities but not on the list at all. No, I am talking about music performed by true artists and craftsmen who are just as concerned with the notes as they are with the arrangements. To say their music is wise beyond their years is only appropriate because we don't expect this level of quality from the pedestrian performances and complacency with levels of mediocrity that are praised now-a-days by fans and sadly critics alike. Higgins stand above all in the studio and the music halls both of which seem to long for great sounds. This is not to say that Higgins don't know what it means to be primitive. They know that raw is no more powerful than polish and can embrace the two qualities with equal understanding and finesse. A typical Higgins song is layered with sounds, instruments and vocals all of which blend together like a chef preparing a signature dish. If Higgins were painters they would be Impressionists. If they were a movie they would be Film Noir.
Zs is a journey. Zs is an expression. Zs is music and it deserves to be heard.
"There He Is"
There is always something sweetly familiar about a Higgins song. Maybe it is the perfectly placed aggression reminiscent of bands like The Faces against the warmly laid down harmonies of so many late 60's and early 70's masters from the Raspberries to Badfinger. Maybe it is just their ability to interpret these sounds and make them their own. Many bands claim this, but fall deeply into the pit of good intentions and poor imitations. "There He Is" never loses itself in clichés and Pop trappings. Perfectly short the way a great Pop song should be and lastingly memorable.
Kevin Fish can do more with his voice than most bands can with an orchestral backing. Sublime and wise beyond his years like Peter Sellers in "Being There." His words and delivery float through the compositions as a true storyteller and not just a singer songwriter (a title which is tragically thrown around and handed out far too easily). You can feel his presence around you as he walks through his life, and yours, as both observer and participant. The chorus, "There is always something to keep someone from loving me" is turned a few times to even include, "...to keep someone from mugging me." Our hero comes to his realization not sadly, but with full understanding that he has only himself to blame.
"Wall Of Dumb"
The piano intro to "Wall Of Dumb" sounds so similar to something you know that as it pulls off into unfamiliar territory your stomach drops like a ride up and down rolling hills. The rolling hills continue and so does the breeze as Mr. Fish's voice stretches to reach the top of each peak and then happily glides to the bottom as his sorts the meaning of life. Maybe not the big meaning, meant to answer all of our insecurities, but just enough to get him through another day. The band rattles along like an old car, cranked up just enough to carry him from one revelation to the next but not simply as a vehicle but also fellow passengers on this journey. To great effect the Guitars, banjos and keyboards pluck and bounce along with the broken beat of the drums and tastefully placed percussion never allowing things to become settled.
Each subsequent track on Zs becomes more layered with sounds. The level of composition goes up and so do the chances the band takes. "Jamy" has one of the coolest intros I have ever heard. There is even a synthesized breeze to make the point more definitively and by all rights should be corny yet feels perfectly genuine. Right before the first chorus passage there is a Guitar, Electric Piano and Drum part that passes in a fraction of a second but one I can get hung up on for a lifetime. It comes again and never loses its affect. Simple, pure and soulful. It is a moment that cannot be spoken, a moment when words are not enough or maybe too much to do it justice. Somehow Banjo manages to come off just as soulful as the more obvious choices of instrumentation but then with the swirling Wurlitzer and spectacular Guitar solo it would be hard to break the mood.
"Roy G. Business"
Somber and zombie like "Roy G. Business" lumbers in with the band. There are moments when you can feel them lose their balance as if the band is playing on the deck of a storm tossed boat. Cymbals crash and tom toms roll like the waves crashing to the deck or at times trying to roll the boat and end the misery. The Suffolk County Man Pipes drunkenly try to save their souls with a sea worthy chant. Hopelessly trying to raise the dead or alert rescuers through the darkness but sadly all is in vein. No one hears, no one is coming; all is lost and the world has gone calm.
"Yes I Know"
Pure Pop perfection has had its moments and nothing is more pure than "Yes I Know." You can almost hear the crowd singing along with Kevin as he repeats "I found a new way" throughout the song. The band raises the excitement and tosses us around just because they can. The singer remains grounded and determined to make sure that we know he is enjoying a moment. This is a moment of clarity and happiness, a moment of pure bliss. At these moments we are best on our own. We are no longer needy, no longer wanting. We have reached a simple state of being. Egoless. This is what a flower must feel. In typical Higgins style, mere seconds before the song concludes Mr. Kaufman treats us to just enough of a guitar solo that we are both left wanting and satisfied.
"Write It Down"
"Write It Down" is sentimental. Thinking of all the great things you could have said; the perfect sentiment, the timely quote or the humorous finish at the end of a thought. All the things you wish you would have said and sometimes things you should have said. Write it down, it doesn't mean any less. Sometimes it may even mean that much more. Drums drive a sharp string arrangement and lilting keys throughout. At times the voice peaks out of the darkness as if lost in thought, clouded by the possibilities to say the right thing.
Fuzz Guitar threatens to shatter the gentle sounds that open "OK." The mood is mist like and airy. Eric Jackson cuts the atmosphere with layers of feedback exposing the storm that is raging inside. Brian Kantor opens up and attacks his kit as if to prove that sometimes what we think is so delicate and fragile is actually quite stable.
Prelude To A Charly"
A band is only as good as its drummer. Period. Regardless of genre. Higgins is not a good band. Higgins is a great band. What makes them so is drummer extraordinaire, Brian Kantor. Rarely on a Pop record does the drummer get to express his or her greatness in such an overt way. Not only does "Prelude To Charly" demonstrate his aggression and skill but he invites and arranges three other drummers to pound his point home. "Prelude" whirls and crashes in what can only be described as a moment of Prog Rock brilliance. Big beats coming at you from all sides, Percussion, heavy Bass and Keyboards come together as one and at times separate as if unaware of each other. You are trapped in the vortex as the musicians surround you driving you closer and closer to the edge of insanity. Suddenly the mood shifts lulling you to sleep with rim shot driven rolls and gentle piano. The nightmare or ecstatic moment, depending on your perspective, builds back up before we are dropped hard and shot through the grease.
Southern Rock with a boogie base is a very good place to land after the prelude. Kantor continues his brilliant assault and the band seems very revved and ready to join him. Fish comes on like he is ten feet tall and the band have an invincible quality to their sound. The addition of Hammond Organ is a great choice and one that more new bands need to explore as it is one of the greatest inventions of the 20th Century. Grooving with harmonies, several slashing guitars and thunderous bass "Charly" is one bad mother-fucker. The Prog flavor is evident in the vocals but the band is all business up front and you guessed it, you know what's going on in back. The outro shows just how sharp the band can be even in territory that is not necessarily familiar to them. This is like Queen meets Black Oak Arkansas.
"Everybody (Thunder Mountain)"
Saying goodbye with a mix of what has come before is a nice way for a band to go out. "Everybody (Thunder Mountain)" combines all of what makes Higgins great and is certainly no throw away at the end of side two. By this point the band has grown to ten players all of whom complement each other as well as shine brightly. The rhythm section continues to kick up some dust, strings and flute dart back and forth avoiding the percussion and ducking cymbals while the keys challenge the bass and trombone to be heard. This is an explosive closer but after you catch your breath and begin to process what you just heard you will want to start it all over again from the beginning."
Audio Visual Triumphs and Disasters
"A haunting early 70s McCartney/Emitt Rhodes inspired album, Higgins manage to pull off the classic era Wings vibe(pretty much on most of the songs here), some Badfinger and Beatles “White Album” while we’re at it but “Zs” is not a retro fest for while the bands’ inspiration are convention by pop standards, they spend a lot of time here messing with established formula a bit – not unlike recent popsters like Bryan Scary and Starling Electric...
Close your eyes and you might hear some Ray Davies, some Beach Boys, some of Zeppelin's rhythm section, some Mike Bloomfield guitar, some McCartney, some Zombies; and all kinds of good good stuff here.
There's enough going on here to merit scores of repeat listens, and you don't have to invest in a thousand-dollar pair of headphones to get hypnotized. Zs plays like it was recorded by unabashed musical aristocrats.it is because pop is such a glorious and wonderful thing that musical genius is so rarely appreciated: when a red guitar, three chords, and the truth is all that is required to scale the heights of greatness, Beatlesque innovation is hardly needed.
GRADE: Solid, Unambiguous “A”. "
The Zs Roster
There He Is
Kevin Fish- Vocals/Guitar/Piano/Organ
Andrew Fuller Condon-Bass
Josh Kaufman-Guitar Solos
Andrew Fuller Condon-Bass
Eric Jackson-Guitar Solos
Annie Nero-Cellos/First Bass Coach
Travis Harrison-Mouse Gong
Wall Of Dumb
Kevin Fish-Vocals/Acoustic Guitar/Piano/Wurlitzer
Josh Kaufman-Classical(30something)Guitar/Electric Guitar/Banjo
Andrew Fuller Condon-Bass
Eric Jackson-Electric Guitar
Jordan Crowell-Shakers/Muted Triangle/Awesomeness
Brian Kantor-Drums/Extensive Percussion/Bongos in the style of Travis Harrison
Kevin Fish-Vocals/Wurlitzer/Piano/Synth/Wah Wah/Bass
Josh Kaufman-Banjo/Josh and Kevin's sampled voice Keyboard
Eric Jackson-Trombone/I'm Gonna take a Solo.....Guitar
Travis Harrison-Bongo Arranger
The Suffolk County Man Pipes-Group Vocals
Roy G. Business
Josh Kaufman-Drop D Guitar/Piano
Andrew Fuller Condon-Bass
The Suffolk County Man Pipes-Group Vocals
Yes I Know
Andrew Fuller Condon-Bass
Write It Down
Josh Kaufman-String arrangement
Brian Kantor-Drums/Shakers/Guitar Manipulation
Kevin Fish-Vocals/Acoustic & Electric Guitars/Wurlitzer/Synths/Synth Bass & Electric Bass
Eric Jackson-Electric Guitar/Fuzz Box Amp Guitar
Prelude To A Charly
Brian Kantor-Drums/Bass/Electric and Acoustic Guitars/Piano/4th Drum solo
Travis Harrison-Drums/Special Effects/3rd Drum Solo
Dan Crowell- Drums/Bell Riding/Fire Cracker Fills/2nd Drum Solo
Kevin Fish- 1st Drum Solo
Kevin Fish-Vocals/Guitar Left/Guitarmonies/Flute Organ
Josh Kaufman-Guitar Right
Andrew Fuller Condon-Bass
Eric Jackson-Slide Guitar
Scot Gropper-Hammond Organ
Everybody (Thunder Mountain)
Brian Kantor-Drumkit Left/Acoustic Guitars
Kevin Fish-Vocals/Acoustic & Electric Guitars/Piano/Harpsiboard
Josh Kaufman-Vocals/Acoustic Guitars/Electric Guitars/Autoharp
Andrew Fuller Condon-Bass
Eric Jackson-Trombones/Electric Guitars
Travis Harrison-Drumkit Right
Billy Filo-Acoustic Guitars
Meryl Joan Lammers-Flutes
"So much better than Badfinger they should be called Goodfinger!"
"I'm going to make this my best. It's better than my Favorite"
Trenton W. Of Ms. Rosica's Class.