Brims with shimmering ethereal electro-pop.
Even if you were lucky enough to stumble upon Yumi Zouma’s 2014 self-titled EP, the New Zealand dream-pop band’s debut full-length, Yoncalla, had such a quiet rollout in 2016 that you’d be forgiven for not knowing it was ever released. But now the band that once crafted songs by recording snippets and uploading them to Dropbox for the other far-afield members to hear has finally recorded an album together in their home country. The pastorally named sophomore album Willowbank stays true to the band’s dreamy sound with a hint of ’80s influences, solidifying their indie pop talents. It’s such a breezy album, though, that it leaves one aching for more nostalgic melodies and sweet crooning from Christie Simpson.
Opening with “Depths (Pt. I),” the band leans into post-disco. Guitarist Josh Burgess carries the song with a bright, melodious riff. A disco-indebted dance beat backs smooth keys and Simpson’s willfully blasé vocal, as she sings, “I’ve never taken myself that seriously.” And if this is Yumi Zouma insisting that they haven’t let good press go to their heads, it’s believable. “Persephone”—and the bulk of the album—puts more emphasis on chill dream-pop than Yoncalla. Simpson croons to a lover over scintillating EDM and handclaps. The fabulous rhythm in Simpson’s vocal is matched by that on “Ostra” and “Carnation,” the latter a piano-driven, R&B-influenced plea to a distancing lover: “I’ll turn back into the night to see if you feel/ Like somebody can allow you to be unreal/ …We could be the ones to lay low.” These tracks feel effortless, making them all the more impressive.
Willowbank brims with shimmering ethereal electro-pop, as on lead single “December.” Once again, Burgess leads off with a funky riff before being joined by sultry, nostalgic lines from Simpson and some playful keys. By the chorus, the vocals have transformed into an airy apology (“Whatever makes you feel good/ …Think you should stand where I stood,” before leading into a suggestion to run away from home), all building toward a euphoric horn bridge. That kind of pleasant surprise in their arrangements makes Yumi Zouma’s music such a fantastic listen. Later, on the heartbreaker “Us, Together,” lovelorn lyrics are paired with a chillwave funk guitar and romantic synth. The second half of Willowbank, however, sees the band experiment with some uncharacteristic styles: “In Blue” is a brooding, slinky effort, and “A Memory” features a blippy synth line that somewhat overpowers Simpson’s dramatic, yet subdued refrain, “In the silence I claimed my place.”
While Yumi Zouma’s music is always dreamy, Willowbank offers a hazier version of their sound, paring back the dance beats for a few truly chill tracks that emphasize their raw melodies and harmonies. Case in point is album closer “Depths (Pt. II),” an alternate version of the upbeat opener, this time presented with only an atmospheric, reverbed guitar and group vocals. It not only bookends the album but proves that Yumi Zouma can be just as haunting without the electro-pop trappings. If they ever do try to switch things up, an entire album like “Depths (Pt. II) would be an absolute dream.