Just a little over a year after their debut 10-track Yoncalla, the New Zealand 4-piece music group Yumi Zouma broke out their sophomore album, Willowbank. The band describes the writing method of Willowbank as a natural process “on their home turf,” as the band crafted the work during one New Zealand summer just around Christmas time.
In a semi-demolished CBD studio (due to a series of earthquakes), Willowbank was formed with the “undeniable” feeling of “rootedness” in the band’s “origins on the bottom of the earth,” especially considering how Yoncalla was formed through the band’s ever-present feeling of distance after the turbulent 2011 earthquakes.
It’s safe to say that Yumi Zouma stays true to their dream pop roots, while at the same time, echoes feelings of lost disco with their use of clean guitars, sweet and simple melodies, and longing romantic lyrics of love and loss throughout Willowbank.
It’s difficult to say whether the band purposely aimed to experiment with simplicity or whether the band just didn’t want to explore beyond minimalism. Many motifs in the album show promise, especially with the use of groovy hook-like bass lines (“Depths (Pt. I),” “December,” “Us, Together”) and attractive guitar riffs (“In Blue,” “Gabriel”), but are dampened with overly simple percussion rhythms and basic piano chords. As with many dream pop bands, Yumi Zouma struggled making every track stand out on its own, causing somewhat of a indistinguishable flow throughout the album’s middle.
The tracks individually are nonetheless interesting, catchy, and fun. The recognition of momentum is a powerful thing, as shown in tracks like “Other People,” where the rhythm section keeps up a drive that compliments the chorus’s hook and disco-like instrumentation. When Yumi Zouma attempts to experiment with their sound, the merit is confirmed — like in tracks “A Memory” and “In Blue” where captivating electronic riffs synchronize with sensual, cool bass lines. A critique: why not play a little more with these themes? Minimalism is great sometimes, but in Yumi Zouma’s case, too much of a good thing can make you sick. It is evident that once the band introduces stimulating and attention-grabbing ideas, even subtly, the track automatically reaches another level of musicality. The band shows a lot of promise, and a push out of their comfort zone could really take their music to new heights.
The band is nevertheless skilled in aspects like melody writing. It’s safe to say that every track in the album has excellent hooks in each chorus. Although some are simpler and more basic than others, they easily have the potential to catch the listeners and keep them in. However, a catchy hook is not enough to do the job. Basic, recipe-abiding, dream pop instrumentation can make the hook sound bland. However, hope is not loss, as Yumi Zouma exhibited with tracks like “Gabriel” and “Ostra”: the band makes valiant efforts intermittently throughout the album that both compliment the hook and build the track to create energy and vitality, making the album actually danceable to. Listeners will definitely want to hear more of that, and are probably asking themselves, “why couldn’t they do that more?”
Yumi Zouma is one talented group of artists, and their release of Willowbank gives a taste of their skilled musicianship. Although the album does not explore that skill as much as it could have, it’s undeniable that Willowbank is an album that is groovy and fun, but at the same time relaxing and calming. The disco theme is definitely a creative approach to the band’s sound, and it’s safe to say that Yumi Zouma fans are excited to hear more of that.