It’s no accident that every first listen to a new Zhu project feels like a carefully guarded private screening. He is, after all, a master curator. The stage was set long before an audience fills the seats, the impending vision immortalized long before scenes were spliced and set in stone. It’s also no accident that Ringos Desert could be seen on the horizon for months in advance. The Mind of a Genius artist’s presence in the dance music world is as carefully crafted as his music, with omissions and inclusions carrying equal weight. What the man of mystery wants seen, heard, and known, is exactly what is received.
First came rumors in the spring of literal tons of sand ready for transport to stops on Zhu’s impending “Dune” tour, and a mysterious phone number rigged for a secretive BLACKLIZT set deep in the Mojave. In the midst of it all were releases — high profile singles like the Tame Impala-assisted “My Life,” and “Coming Home,” with Majid Jordan. More music followed, with the lion’s share ending up on the producer’s Ringos Desert, Pt. 1 EP. Zhu’s sophomore full length effort has crept into fans’ peripherals for the better part of the year – so just how different does a full listen feel? That’s the funny thing about the wilderness: No matter how many dunes one passes on the way to its center, looking out from the middle of an ocean of sand is a different existence entirely.
Upon arrival, Ringos Desert makes it immediately clear that its identity as an invitation carried over to the track list itself. The LP contains a large amount of powerhouse collaborators — eight, to be exact — with each packing impact. From heavyweights like TOKiMONSTA to relative unknowns like Karnaval Blues, Zhu’s call to the desert seems to have drawn a crowd before the album ever reached fans’ ears. That spirit of openness can be felt in every joint effort, as TOKiMONSTA personally attested to when speaking of her album appearance on “Light It Up:”
Every song is polished to absolute perfection, each sound given dedicated space to exist like modern art in an exhibit. Tucked into the songs is a cheeky dose of western sonic flavor that seasons the entire album. The high-noon shootout whistles and echoing crow calls on album opener “Stormy Love” are unapologetic pulp, but there are subtler instances at play as well. Twanging guitar lines ranging from full-on distorted wails (“Desert Woman”) to sad cowboy strums (“Ghost In My Bed”) permeate the project, giving a human touch counterbalance to the grooves’ ultra-cool polish. Through golden hour slow-burners and starry dance cuts, that layer of crackle and dust deepens the thematic experience, feeling deliberate without gimmick.
The long player is upper echelon electronic music pure and simple. Only a handful of artists possess the kind of vision and polish to make a body of work this consistent, and at the same step out fearlessly to push creative genre boundaries. But where does this primal call to Ringos Desert lead? The album has always been an invitation — but to what? The material embodies an expansive array of feelings and experiences; love, drugs, sex, pain, loss, doubt, and almost everything in between. Repeated listens can immerse in the moment and just as easily transport through potent escapism. That power is no accident — after all, Zhu has beckoned the world to the dunes from the very beginning. To listen is to join him beneath the stars and sun and feel without distraction or interruption. If not all who wander are lost, Ringos Desert proves not all who are lost need saving.