Yumi Zouma: Yoncalla (Cascine, 2016)

Yumi Zouma: Yoncalla (Cascine, 2016)

by Jason

Yumi Zouma are groovy, make you dance in your seat because you can’t sit still, pop geniuses. There are just some albums that I can’t stop playing over and over again and Yoncalla is one of them. The songs are addictive and Yumi Zouma knows how to cast a spell over the listener like they have some sort of superpower. Hailing from Christchurch, New Zealand, the band consists of Christie Simpson, Sam Perry, Charlie Ryder, and Josh Burgess. The band began with three friends in 2013 and has proven that they are popmasters right out of the gate with their first two EP’s.  Yoncalla is their first full-length album and every single track is worthy of being a single. There is no weak song in this ten song, beautifully written LP.

“Barricade (Matter of Fact)” begins Yoncalla with inviting, warm percussion and synths. Simpson instantly spins her lyrically magical vocals that just draw the listener into the world of Yumi Zouma like a warm, soft blanket. There are bright guitar melodies in the mix that play in conversation with the synth melodies. There is also a fuzzed out wall of sound that builds in the louder moments. In terms of comparisons, I keep returning to the likes of Club 8, with those subtle warm vocals and sparse pop brilliance being present in Yumi Zouma as well. “Text from Sweden” is laden with a deeply addictive groove that takes a piece out of the Abba playbook. Of course, they aren’t as “disco” as Abba but the sort of brilliance of their pop just feels infused with that band’s spirit. This mid-tempo track has deep synth and light percussion with various vocals from multiple voices, both male and female.

“Keep It Close to Me” gets one’s head bobbing instantly with an infectious beat and dreamy synths. By the third song, the themes in the album also become apparent as a constant refrain about relationships but none of it is cliché or simplified. The characters in the songs, whether personal references for the band or not, speak from a place of the complexities of personal interactions. “Keep It Close to Me” should be a huge hit that everyone is humming in the halls of their work places and schools. Synths play a simple melody over bright trilling electronics and deep percussion. Again, this one will have your head bobbing as Simpson casts her hypnotic spell over the listener. The guitar line here is distinctive and really grounds the song in catchy phrasing. “Haji Awali” begins with dreamy guitar and a beautiful back and forth between male and female vocals. The bass-line on this composition is exquisite and, while subtle, plays an important part in the overall feel. The drums are sparse and tinny, giving off a bright feel but not without complexity. “Haji Awali” makes me nostalgic for driving down the California coast with the windows down and the sea air flowing through the car.

“Remember You at All” has a minor quality to the piece and therefore brings a melancholy edge to the brighter vocals and tonal choices. The vocals are breathy under a throbbing, deep synth and urgent high-hat. The primary synth melody dances throughout with a somber glee. “Yesterday” has this guitar melody that just sticks in your head and won’t let go in all the right ways. The bass grooves in this song along with energetic percussion. The chorus is also this epic pop melody that is infectious. “Better When I’m By Your Side” has a rather syncopated beat that Simpson almost talks over in places. The chorus returns to her dreamy vocals and then the band returns to the stripped down acoustic guitar and percussion. It creates hills and valleys in this track as Simson croons “It’s tearing us down” in melancholy tones. Synths have a slightly fuzzy edge to them during the chorus, echoing the more angsty lyrics. The higher volume parts are filled with whirring synth and larger walls of fuzz.

“Short Truth” has a decidedly electronica feel with a pulsating fuzzy bass and bright, spacey synths. When Simpson sings, the synths peel back to give her space until the much larger and catchy chorus. The bridge is a syncopated synth with male and female vocals existing in the music space, ethereal and ghostlike. “Hemisphere” starts with bass synth and sparse electronic percussion. Guitar interjects in the spaces between the vocals. The vocals are filled with reverb and project a feel of direct honesty. There are a lot of layers here that the listener can explore on each listen as the synths play about in the overall popscape. “Drachma” is the finale to the album and Simpson begins with a falsetto vocal over a syncopated guitar melody. Echoing snare and small, simple sonic touches populate the background. This leads into a lower vocal register in the chorus and what sounds almost like strings. The tempo is slower and pensive, with the build being very subtle percussion editions throughout.

Ok, so I’ve been effusive here but I can’t help myself. Yumi Zouma’s Yoncalla is pop perfection from start to finish. From the moment “Barricade” hits the speakers, the listener is enveloped in a pop wonderland that is both deep and complex. This isn’t pop that drips with clichés and tired riffs. No. This is creatively charged and hypnotic pop that entices listeners to hear it just one more time. Yoncalla ought to go down in the history of the genre as one of the greats.


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