Tuesday night at Gasa Gasa, he presented his new music as unadorned as possible.
Zack Villere’s Little World took the aesthetic of his Soundcloud work under the name Fro-Yo Ma to its natural conclusion. The “video game pastorals,” as I referred to them when I reviewed the album in 2017, were small gems, and the lyrics and singing that were new to his art with the release of the album were charmingly artless. Lines tumbled beyond the boundaries of bars, and his unassuming, sing-spoken voice made the songs sound like a natural, completely personal response to his life.
Since Little World, Villere has largely been silent on Soundcloud and has only trickled out a few songs on Spotify, where he has also curated a good Spotify playlist, “Shaving Cream.” That meagre output didn’t prepare the audience for what was to come Tuesday night at Gasa Gasa.
That night, Villere unveiled his new work not with a DJ rig or a keyboard set-up but with a Lucite Stratocaster and drum programming that he controlled with his iPhone. He picked up where “Cool” and “Next” left off on Little World and sang every song accompanied only by his own guitar playing and sometimes the drum tracks. He didn’t employ pedals to vary the sound, so with a tone that seemed like the factory default for his guitar and amp, he presented his songs as musically naked as possible.
The way he seemed to move without guise or pretense from offstage to on was charming, and when he announced between songs, “I think my friends are talking. Y’all are dicks,” it sounded like there was no difference between the person onstage and the person who’d sit up half the night playing Overwatch online.
But that unassuming quality comes with some caveats. He seemed unedited onstage Tuesday because his guitar playing was a little scruffy, and when he tried to sing low notes, his pitch control was less precise. That made the set seem amateurish at times, but never simply amateurish. Instead, the homemade vibe played as honest, in part because the songs themselves were guileless. They were small, intimate compositions just as his Fro-Yo Ma and Little World songs are, and when he sang, “I might be super in love with you,” the lumpy, casual language sounded truthful.
The one cover in the set was partynextdoor’s “Joy,” and it along with his “Shaving Cream” playlist offer a pry bar into Villere’s music. Villere is fascinated by the R&B lover man and presents himself as one, albeit on his own terms. He’s got game as he presents himself as a guy with no game, and his version of smooth talk is poetry-free. When he sings, he’s so vulnerable that it’s not clear which he needs more, a hug or bubble wrap.
When I interviewed Villere in 2016, he said, “There are so many different facets to pop music that I can make what I want if I call it pop. I don’t know if it’s pop like Justin Timberlake pop, but it might be. You never know what the next wave of popular music will sound like.” His next wave fits Parliament, Stevie Wonder, Madvillian and indie rappers under the same pop umbrella, and you can hear the connection between his influences and his music on the tracks that have been released in the last year. Those songs—including “Super” and many performed Tuesday night—flow naturally from the vocal tracks on Little World. But, because any guitar present on those tracks is muffled if it’s there, the choice to make it the focal point in a presentation of what were in effect the blueprints for his songs was all the more curious.
I am even more interested in Villere than before because of the radical trust he shows in his art, even in its most skeletal form. Still, his embrace of his songs’ most theoretical charms made the night itself more thought-provoking than fun.