From creating samples and recording their first tracks in their bedrooms in Christchurch to exchanging files as they spread out across the globe to launching their debut album on super-boutique label Cascine, Yumi Zouma have come a long way in a short three years. Their stunning debut single, “Brae”, put the New Zealand quartet on the indie map while touring with Lorde and Chet Faker won the fans from Auckland, New York, Paris, and beyond. Their story is one only found in one’s sleep or seen at the movies, yet Christie Simpson, Sam Perry, Charlie Ryder, and Josh Burgess are living out their dreams.
And dreamy perfectly describes Yumi Zouma’s debut album, Yoncalla. Like the beautiful shores of New Zealand, Yoncalla – from the immersive opener “Barricade (Matter of Fact)” to the enchanting closer “Drachma” – feels windswept, where the coastlines will surprise you with their dramatic edges but mostly leave you in breathless for its endless beauty. Compared to their EPs, Yoncalla is more composed and harmonious in the sounds, textures, and nuances, which creates the feelings of awe and wonder throughout the album’s 35 minutes. This can be explained by Yumi Zouma rewinding the clock and writing the album together at the same time and place, using the quiet moments between tour stops and a self-imposed, three-week timeout in Paris to make Yoncalla.
Although the album feels like a band speaking together as one voice, the themes spoken throughout the album reflect the entire band’s and the individual member’s experiences of the past three years. The songs are retrospective, almost apologetic, as depicted on the splendid “Yesterday”. With a late ’70s, sultry disco-vibe, Simpson’s icy voice lays a chill as she sings about a time, possibly a relationship, that went wrong.
Distance is a dominant theme in the album. “Text from Sweden” shares the story of a long-distance relationship and the challenges that come with two people living apart. The CHVRCHES-esque “Keep It Close to Me” is about commitment, and the song can be linked to young love or any relationship – family, home, friends. Memories and those left behind are the subjects of “Remember You At All”, as the longing for loved ones and homesickness become the only feelings one experiences and knows each day.
The theme of self-awareness of the decisions and sacrifices one has made is another theme that resonates in Yoncalla. The club-infused “Hemisphere” reveals the hurtful choices one has made. As Simpson steely sings, “I guess it’s just another missed opportunity / To tell you all the things that you mean to me / I’m feeling selfish, feeling cruel / Like you know I do.” “Short Truth”, a dazzling synth-pop track, is the coming to terms with reality, where there is a recognition of the sacrifices that have been. The darkwave approach that percolates throughout the track offers a brilliant backdrop to the internal battle that occurs within one’s mind.
It is easy to forget that a young band like Yumi Zouma are still four young adults, whose rise to fame has been nothing short of astronomical. However, costs – both personal and those affecting others – must be paid, which the quartet quietly reveal in their debut album. Sure, maybe Yoncalla does not break new musical ground, but this beautiful and thoughtful album offers insights to a band that is grappling with the decisions and sacrifices needed to make their dream a reality. In addition, Yoncalla reveals a band that is just beginning to blossom into a collective that should be cherished, much like the flower from which the album derives its name.
Yumi Zouma are currently on a worldwide tour. Check their website for tour dates.
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