Soon after its release in September 2000 on the band's own Vibro-Phonic label, the Jigsaw Seen's Zenith garnered a lot of attention, much of it derived from its inventive packaging, which was nominated for a Grammy in the best recording package category. The innovative cover art -- co-designed by lead guitarist/group co-founder Jonathan Lea and Grammy-winning art director Rachel Gutek -- featured a die-cut that revealed the compact disc inside the digipack; rotating the CD showed 11 different classic TV images on a TV screen. Although the clever artwork was worthy of praise, the group's music on that shiny disc deserved to be praised just as highly. The Jigsaw Seen -- the longtime L.A. favorites formed there in 1986 -- began recording the tracks for this release back in 1995, but Lea and co-leader Dennis Davison (who paid for the recordings themselves) didn't finish recording and mixing the album's 11 tracks until 1999. Its release was a long time coming, fully nine years after their full-length debut, Shortcut Through Clown Alley, was issued by the now-defunct New Jersey-based Skyclad label. Zenith reveals Davison and Lea's remarkable range of influences, which include '60s and early-'70s bands and artists like Arthur Lee's Love, the Kinks, the Pretty Things, Big Star, early Bee Gees, and pre-glam David Bowie. Davison and Lea -- both accomplished musicians -- experimented by introducing an astonishing array of instruments (including mellotron, stylophone, Optigan organ, analog synth, and E-Bow). They were, from time to time, also assisted by guest musicians, including D.J. Bonebrake (ex-X, ex-the Knitters) on vibes and percussion and Danny McGough (of Shivaree and Tom Waits' touring band) on harmonium. Highlights abound, from the Big Star-influenced opening track, "Letter to the Editor," accented by roaring 12-string guitar and Kristian Hoffman's sublime piano. "Celebrity Interview" is charged with loud guitars, Hammond organ, and prickly pizzicato strings. Another key Jigsaw Seen tune, "Fiddlesticks," finds them in an introspective minor-key mood, with Bonebrake's wood block highlights providing a sound not often heard in this genre. Other highlights include the Gene Clark-ish "Girl on a Red Velvet Swing" and the hauntingly sober and beautiful "If My Eyes Offend You," which combines medieval and somber folk themes. The album comes to a resounding climax with "Big Hand," a dolorous epic of mellotrons, harmonium, piano, and white noise/static. -AMG
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