In an era where shimmering dream-pop made for secluded dance clubs is made with computers, electric drums, and analogue synthesizers, Yumi Zouma are throwbacks. This isn’t a term usually associated with the four twenty-somethings from New Zealand’s South Island, but they’re still predominantly a guitar-bass-drums-keyboard band. Their music, as such, has a ’70s and ’80s feel, where each song is groovy, sensual, and intimate. Yoncalla, their 2016 debut album, had the feeling of the dramatic, wind-swept shorelines of their homeland. For their sophomore LP, Willowbank, they bring us back to where it all began – the bedroom.
Willowbank is a gorgeous and breathtaking record. It is reflective at times, and other moments it is stunningly remorseful. Often, though, it is both, such as on “Gabriel”, who is both an “ex” and the archangel. Christine Simpson’s hushed vocals are heard over top a delicate acoustic guitar, giving the song a romantic immediacy.
The sensual “Carnation”, meanwhile, recalls the romantic R&B of the ’70s and early ’80s when the likes of Sade and Marvin Gaye made four minutes feel like a lifetime. With its body-swaying and delirious melody, “Us, Together” is the reincarnation of romantic disco-pop. The song melds Gloria Gaynor-like romanticism with Caribou’s modern-day electro-pop. On “A Memory”, Yumi Zouma deliver a Tycho-like, ambient number that is dazzling from the very first note.
The bedroom intimacy gives way to high-end Paris nightclubs on the ultra-blissful opener, “Depth (Pt. 1)”. Through the tingling, dissonant guitar riffs, the ’70s-esque disco-pop beats, and Simpson’s hushed vocals, the song oozes sensuality even though the lyrics concern the difficulties of getting through each and every day. Similarly, “Persephone” is an exhilarating number, although Simpson’s story is one of vulnerability and feeling submissive to another person’s authoritative tendencies.
“December”, though, offers a more optimistic message. The song greets you with Simpson’s breezy vocals and the warm instrumentation from the rest of the band. As the song builds, the feeling of mid-day sunlight basking upon your face overcomes you. It is a beautifully vibrant song made for long drives along the coast.
The album’s highlight comes in the form of “Half Hour”. This romantic number is more ambient in its execution, but it is absolutely sublime. It feels like a dream coming to life as the delicate instrumentation gradually builds into a chest-swelling crescendo. Christine Simpson’s voice is rich and stunning, as she reveals her longing for someone from her past. The song is absolutely magnificent, and it should have been nominated for a Silver Scroll Award (given to the best New Zealand song of the year).
In the meantime, Yumi Zouma will have to settle for releasing one of the country’s best albums of the year. For that matter, Willowbank is 2017’s pillow talk record – a private and intimate experience unlike any other written this year.
Yumi Zouma are Christie Simpson, Charlie Ryder, Josh Burgess, and Sam Perry.
Featured photo by Aaron Lee.
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