You either are or you know someone who can’t stop playing the band name game. It’s that game where, in the middle of a conversation about where to eat dinner, someone says, “Greasy Chinese Food—that’s a great band name.” Froyo Ma, the alias of Zack Villere, sounds like a product of that kind of brainstorming, and therefore reliably elicits the requisite eye roll and chuckle that accompanies that sort of thing. But it also conjures up the other side of the band name game: matching the name to a sound. Once it’s established that Greasy Chinese Food would make a good band name (which I don’t think it would, for the record), the imagination sets to work on what kind of music they would make.
So, what does the name “Froyo Ma” tell us about his music? Nothing much, it turns out—but in a way, that disconnect is telling. More of a producer than a typical artist (although the lines between those two are increasingly blurred), Villere gives very little away about himself on his new EP pants, an electronic, experimental amalgamation of jazz, R&B, and hip-hop. His real name is hard to find on the internet, and he outsources most of the singing on the album. His music also blends so many different influences that it seems impossible to attribute it to a single guy.
Starting with “berrymilk sea,” a minute-long, all-instrumental track of sparsely-laid, non-melodic electronic blips, Froyo Ma sets a tone of jazz-inflected electronic. Warm but strange, it feels like waking up at dawn on an alien planet.
When the next song, “spent missing,” comes in, though, we return promptly to Earth. Leaving behind the ambient synth sounds, Villere lays out straightforward-seeming R&B that, sung in the smooth voice of Charlotte Day Wilson, recalls the late-‘90s, early-2000s neo-soul of Erykah Badu (a cited influence of his) and Lauryn Hill. A weird instrumental break at the minute mark brings back the Boards of Canada vibe, though, reminding us that even in the songs that seem to most decisively stick to one genre, Froyo Ma will infuse it with something weird—the jazz of nearby New Orleans or the low, pulsating bass of his hip-hop idols, to name a few.
From “there,” the restrained-yet-driving third track—the EP’s jazziest—to “squid limbo,” the ambient-synth-turned-rap performed by Yote in the over-enunciated, percussive style of Tyler the Creator (another of his influences), pants covers wide and varied terrain. But, like any good producer, Villere leaves his own mark. Though disparate, pants coheres around its smooth sound and easy, electronic polish. Froyo Ma might be a bit of silly name, but his music is seriously delightful.