Two full-length albums in, Yumi Zouma have already established their own unique sound. Having done the long distance thing for their entire career, the band’s members—Christie Simpson, Charlie Ryder, Josh Burgess and Sam Perry—reunited in their native New Zealand, operating out of the recently earthquake-devastated Christchurch to record Willowbank. Establishing themselves with easy dance jams, they are distinct in 2017 but reminiscent of a moment in the early 2000s rich with pop imports that were lyrically compelling and musically interesting. Like Phoenix or The Whitest Boy Alive, Yumi Zouma is a band with a sound that transcends geography, with abundant melodies and up-tempo drumbeats that beg to be remixed. The follow-up to their acclaimed debut album Yoncalla (2016), Willowbank is packed with twee dream pop that is mature beyond its years.
The maturity that sets Yumi Zouma apart reveals itself both lyrically and in the lush, tight production of Willowbank. The first track “Depths (Pt. 1)” is fun and catchy, while exploring the dilemma of being a “cool girl.” Simpson questions her insouciance and the building resentment of not being heard. This tension, of being fiercely independent while surviving the compromise of a relationship, lies at the heart of the album. On “December,” she sings "I've got the history of driving alone and / I think you might be a little too strong.”
On “Half Hour,” her eventual recognition of the benefits of coupledom is more gloomy than romantic, as an eerie drumbeat kicks while Simpson ponders the need for partnership to add lightness to life’s darkest corners. Her fear of eternal loneliness is squashed pretty quickly. “Gabriel” reminds us that she is a “sucker for weaker guys,” a song of self-realization that would be comfortable lying on a therapist’s couch. A slowed-down reprise of “Depths” to close out the album signals a sort of resignation. What started as buoyant is now a wistful reflection—isn’t that what growing up is all about?
Though most tracks are exercises in heartbreak, or at the very least dissatisfaction, Willowbank is relentlessly charming. Disco percussions keep things upbeat and grooving along, while Simpson’s dreamy vocals swirl around like a warm breeze. Overall, it’s a cozy album; the product of a band comfortable in their surroundings, enjoying the holiday season with loved ones. Yumi Zouma’s New Zealand homecoming in December 2016 seems to have enabled the creation of something confident in its simplicity, undeniably listenable, and indicative of a young band that has hit their stride.
Notable Tracks: “Carnation” | “Depths (Pt. 1)” | “Half Hour”
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