Album Review: Cubicle Zombie | Weather McNabb
In these days of branding and fierce competition for attention from an increasingly ambivalent audience, names mean more than ever. There are few decisions more important for a musician than what they name their album. A prime example is Vancouver-based musician Weather McNabb. With sound more in line with Indie stylings, when it came to naming her new concept EP, McNabb opted for “Cubicle Zombie”. A name that is creative that also belies the actual content, sounds like an ironically self-aware Death Metal band.
The opening track “Good Morning,” is a bricolage of influences and sounds, combing lovely, harmonic Torch Jazz-style vocals with jangling, reverb heavy guitar tones pulled right out of Rockabilly, and what can only be described as “hip-hop” beats that are clearly produced with a drum-machine. There is a motif intermittently broken by piano, both acoustic and electric, that veers from Neo-Classical to a sort of dark Rag-Time. Lyrically, things are nearly as wonderfully and oddly chaotic as the melodies, the take-away chorus being: “the cubical zombies are sitting and rotting/They're dead while they're walking.”
Track number two “Adapt,” carries on the creepy undertones of “Good Morning,” brining them to the fore. Starting out with McNabb's dominating voice in a sing/talk style over a snare drumbeat, things pick up slightly at 0:46 with the introduction of distorted guitar and more-complex-than-it-sounds acoustic piano intervals, punctuated by beautiful, if out of nowhere, orchestra strikes. The real kick comes at three minutes in, when everything comes together into a unified and powerful whole. While the sounds are somewhat darker, the lyrics savagely call out the lies we are all told by society, but they also verge on the optimistic, a stand-out line being: “this isn't what they told us would happen/We'll adapt.”
Things take a bit of a strange (a relative term at this point) turn with the third track “War Paint.” With a distinctly 80s sound, dominated by synthesizers, hornet-in-a-can guitar tones, hollow snare drums, chorded piano and back-up singers, the lyrics carry on the theme set up by the first two tracks, stating: “It's just an illusion/a delusion” before extolling the listener to “put on your war paint/cover the fear.” Followed with: “who wants to see the real you?/Who wants to be the real you.” This is confusing until one remembers that “war paint” is a slang term for women's make-up.
Track four, “Time Machine,” takes on an almost Industrial rough intensity, dominated with heavy, drum-machine beats punctuated with distorted guitar and foreboding lead vocals accentuated by harmonic layering. Even more surprising than the turn to the harsh is the Swing turn at 2:19, cleverly driving home the lyrical theme of the song. A lyrical theme which addresses head-on the soft sexism of low-expectations that still exist. A theme brought out strongly in the lines: “what we have discussed here I hear I hear with disgust” and “I'm sorry, what?/Did you really just say that to me?/It isn't 1963/Let me welcome you the the 21st century.”
The fifth and final track “User Error” utilizes heavy, deft, bass notes and a metronome like drum-machine with synthesizer strings to evoke the darker end of the Electro sound spectrum, that actually sounds like a computer malfunctioning. Despite the tech-heavy sound of the instrumentation, the lyrics are about relationships of a distinctly human nature, the word “user” having a, very crafty, double-meaning. The whole album is like a Russian nesting doll: small and unassuming, but with many different layers.