New York band Zs
, formed in 1999 by saxophonist and sole constant member Sam Hillmer
, are collectively a kind of middle finger to people who assume that rock bands are stupid and new-music ensembles are effete. Zs play with such unstinting energy, paint-peeling ferocity, and pinpoint precision that they make most so-called math-rock or prog bands sound malnourished and clumsy, but they're also obsessed with formalist composition—until recently they always performed with sheet music, and on the live material from the recent box set The Complete Sextet Works 2002-2007
(Northern Spy), you can sometimes hear the audience teasing them about it. Hillmer formed the group while he was a student at the Manhattan School of Music, around the same time he became a cofounder of progressive experimental ensemble Wet Ink, and the daunting Complete Sextet Works
lays out Zs' impressive development since then. The ensemble's single-minded ambition makes playing in it a time-consuming proposition, and a slew of great players have joined and then moved on, including Extra Life's Charlie Looker and the Men's Ben Greenberg. The group's most recent album, New Slaves
(The Social Registry), is an astonishing achievement, its head-numbingly complex songs rendered with an uncategorizable sound palette and a locked-in focus that makes them almost exhausting just to listen to. For this Zs tour a new lineup featuring drummer Greg Fox (Guardian Alien, ex-Liturgy) and guitarist Patrick Higgins (Animal) will play new, unreleased music
. —Peter Margasak Kwaidan and Paper Mice open.