Our Spilt Milk looks at our favorite things of the week, which this week include ZHU's "GENERATIONWHY," Local Natives, and Ben Snakepit's "Manor Threat."

Steven Zhu photo
Steven Zhu

Steven Zhu is a faceless shape shifter in the electronic music world. His first full-length studio album GENERATIONWHY testifies to his artistic elusiveness. A Los Angeles native, ZHU's career kick started with the release of his hit single "Faded" back in 2014. Since then, he has released two EPs (THE NIGHTDAY and Genesis Series) while gaining a substantial fan base. One of the most interesting things about ZHU is his deliberate avoidance of being photographed or showing his face during performances. He wants his career to be as much of a blank slate as possible, but one thing that isn't undercover is his drive for experimentation and versatility as he does not want to be stuck in a niche. He does not want to be bound by any musical or visual pretenses because he wants to expose as many of his fans to as many different styles as possible, at least for now. Zhu told the Los Angeles Times that he’s a little worried about alienating his fan base with GENERATIONWHY and its shifts in style. 

Elements of the album include garage house, made popular by Disclosure, while the guitar and saxophone on "Money" pulls listeners in a jazz rock direction. ZHU works with rhythmic kick drum and strategic but simple use of synth on "Cold Blooded" or "Generationwhy," while "Good Life" features spoken word from Adam Schmalholz and poetry from the late Maya Angelou on the the first track, "Intro (Neon City)." In addition, for the first time ZHU allows guest vocals to be featured on tracks without his own vocal contribution, which has been a defining aspect of his music thus far. In "Good Life," the ethereal vocals from Georgia Knott of Broods contrast with the spoken word on the track. Listeners who are seeking familiarity may not enjoy the album's flexibility, but for more open-minded listeners, GENERATIONWHY will be viewed as a step in the right direction for ZHU. (Ryan White)

So far, Local Natives have released three singles off of their third album Sunlit Youth, set to be released on September 9. While Hummingbird, the follow-up album to their debut Gorilla Manor felt like they were honing in on their sound, these new releases seem to be taking a different turn. “Past Lives,” “Villainy,” and “Fountain Of Youth” are more beat-driven and structured like pop-indie songs. “Fountain Of Youth” features a chorus with the cheer-hollering vocals you might expect of an alt-rock single that catches some commercial radio play. 

Stripped down are the lush, dense synths that the band has been known for, replaced with the seeming urgency to write an anthem more than a sensory experience. It’s valid and a direction that many bands before them have taken, but it’s not exactly what I expected or hoped for. I’m still jamming out to it, and it certainly doesn’t do anything to squash my curiosity about the forthcoming album or my desire to see them when they come here October 7. If anything, it only makes me more curious. (Nicole Cohen)

Ben Snakepit’s Manor Threat depicts the mundanity of life by being mundane, so some may find his visually lo-fi “Snakepit” comic strip exactly that. Ben Snakepit plays in the punk band Ghost Knife in Texas and draws autobiographical comics that rarely lead to epiphanies and certainly don’t get to punch lines. Frequently, they do little more than document a day in his life, but the details make the strip. Good days are celebrated by splurging on better beer. When he tries to lose weight, the way it takes over his life will look familiar to anyone who has gone through the same process.

Ben Snakepit riffs on his limited skills as an artist, which give his drawing an immediacy. Because he’s not much of an artist, his drawing rarely adds information that isn’t in the text. The exception is the self-loathing reflected by drawing himself as a giant turd when he spends a day playing videogames. The art limits the strip’s artistic reach, but it also keeps it very specific and credible. You don’t expect someone’s diary to be writerly, and Manor Threat feels real because it lacks artifice.

I’ve found it best to read 10 or so pages at a time. Read fewer and its inertia makes “Snakepit” seem extraordinarily ordinary. Read more and you want it to go some place. In the sweet spot, you can connect to the small wins, losses and compromises that shape a person, albeit at a glacial pace. (Alex Rawls)

manor threat cover art Ben Snakepit's "Manor Threat"