Newest Yumi Zouma album flows seamlessly
October 12, 2017
Somewhere between the chilled-out pulse of Washed Out and the reverby mindscapes of Beach Fossils, dream pop makes its comeback with Yumi Zouma’s “Willowbank.” When the group put out their first LP, “Yoncalla,” last year, the band’s members were living all across the world. With members stationed in New York, Auckland and Paris, the album was as scattered as they were. Despite being an impressive, highlyacclaimed release, there was clear room for growth. Now, with all members located in Christchurch, New Zealand, their latest release, “Willowbank,” is a totem to the band’s newfound cohesiveness.
Staying true to their distinct, dream-pop sound, the band touches on themes of doubt, anxiety and growth. What sets the record apart, especially on tracks revolving around love, is the lyricism. As with most aspects of the album, the lyrics are straightforward. But, the message of the group leaves the listener with a bevy of questions to answer, and a lot to ponder.
Unlike many of their dream-pop peers, Yumi Zouma’s work is never pretentious or precious. Their spacey, soothing vocals are quirky but not forced, the instrumentation is beautifully sparse and the production quality is flawless. The album feels like an effortless epic.
Heavily influenced by the location in which it was composed and recorded, the album is as much a commentary on the human experience as it is on the state of New Zealand. Death and rebirth are important factors in this album. The very location of the album’s recording was nearly demolished in 2011 by a series of earthquakes. Each comment on the cycle of life is a direct commentary on this devastating catastrophe. Guitarist Josh Burgess is even quoted as saying: “We were on home turf and creating from a place that felt fundamentally natural” according to Consequence of Sound. This “natural” aspect is evident throughout the entire record.
The album opens with the song “Depths (Pt.I),” which immediately brings in the sound of a chunky, picked precision bass. The glowing strain of a guitar tails along. Awash with reverb, the lick is reminiscent of fellow dreampop rock group Craft Spells’ best work. The tune is catchy, and relaxing. Just as soon as you feel like whistling along, this riff is answered with the melodious voice of singer Christie Simpson.
Simpson sets the stage for the track with the line: “Dizzy, we’re caught in a spin / If I was older, then would you still let me win.” The all-too-familiar doubts of young, punchdrunk love are immediately in play in the song. Clearly beyond the honeymoon period of the relationship, Simpson continues in the pre-chorus with: “Cold, so cold / And all that you say again / Is like / Don’t go, so cold / You’re not the same.” Again hinting at these poignant questions of dedication, this line illustrates a dark, fearful side to love.
The glaring concern of lost love is followed by a valuable lesson of self-respect within the chorus. The song finishes with a chant of: “Seriously / At last it bothers me / Under the blue, of my desire to be / Never takin’, myself that seriously / Don’t think it bothers me.” In contrast to the frantic, “dizzy” feeling of doubt explored earlier in the album, this last line demonstrates a moment of growth for the subject of the song. Worry has turned into confidence, fear into comfort.
Muted guitar notes caress the pulse of Simpson’s voice in the start of “Half Hour.” These delicate, lilting tones are carried by the cadence of fingers snapped on beats two and four. The reverberations of these sounds are cavernous and dark, creating a duality of claustrophobia and space within the track. The intricacy of this timbre is all but accidental.
According to “The FADER,” the song was written as a contemplation of death. Guitarist Josh Burgess wrote to “The FADER” about the song saying: “My granddad died when I was 7, and I still remember this feeling of knowing that no matter how hard I searched, he could not be found. I worried that he needed someone to help him as he navigated his way into death.” This idea is explored the most in the line: “I think I need you when I die / When I’ve got no one on my side.” However, the song is as much about death as it is about love.
The album reaches its most clear commentary on relationships with the ninth track: “Other People.” Borrowing from “Depths (pt.I),” this song touches again on the confusion of love with the line: “I don’t think I love you, but I could be wrong.” The band comments on these themes again with the line: “I know what you’re doing / When you say you don’t want to fight.” This is an evident reference to growth in relationships, especially seeing through the affectations of dishonest love.
The album closes with “Depths (Pt. II)”—a slower, morose rendition of the first track, this piece summarizes the album in a full-circle fashion. By restating the lyrics over a darker backing, the words are given a revived meaning.
Whether studying, taking the bus or alone with your thoughts, “Willowbank” provides a refuge from the noise of the world. It is the perfect soundtrack for quiet, contemplative moments.
Contact Noah Sonnenburg at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.