Yumi Zouma: Present Tense [Album Review]

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Yumi Zouma
Present Tense
Polyvinyl Records [2022]

While Yumi Zouma is most comfortable in gentle confines of the midtempo electronic tones of classic Euro-pop sounds, the band which got its start in Christchurch, New Zealand, leans into the energy of live drums and a wider spectrum of organic, orchestrated sounds on their fourth full-length album, Present Tense. Compared to the ultra-calm vibe on 2020’s Truth or Consequences, the punchy dance-floor beat of “In the Eyes of Our Love” and the darker guitar tones and snapping drum beat of “Astral Projection” suggest a more aggressive power pop feel, tapping some 80’s new wave energy.

Given that the quartet’s current living situation required internet file sharing from locales as diverse as London and NYC as well as down under long before the lock-down, their long-standing approach to writing and recording across space and time most have seemed tailor made for the pandemic. Still, as Christie Simpson sings in “Give It Hell,” abandoning a sold-out tour in support of “T or C” left the band echoing the world’s grief in the lines, “When you hear hope is gone/From those who you keep so dear.” But in one of their strongest pop melodies, on the albums bright, first single, “Where the Light Used to Land,” they capture that dreamy pop vibe in an effort “to forget the things you said when you went away.”

While the mix still seeks to blend all the instrumentation into a hazy cloud of sound for Simpson’s vocals to float on, there’s more room here for real guitar tones, and you can actually feel the move to a larger orchestrated string section over the usual synths. In “Honestly I’m Fine,” it’s the piano the stands out in the song’s intro, before the larger live strings, and pedal steel guitar carry the poppy arrangement home. In “Razorblade” and the melancholy “Haunt” Simpson’s voice gets support from male vocal harmonies, but generally she sings over a female chorus of voices. The group’s darker inclinations get carried in the new wave feel of the album’s closer, “Astral Projections,” but even here Simpson’s light, bright, poppy approach lifts Yumi Zouma’s sound up toward the airy clouds.

“Where The Light Used To Lay” / “In The Eyes Of Our Love” / “Give It Hell”

Chvrches / Lake Street Dive / Colbie Caillat

Truth Or Consequences (2020)

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Brian Q. Newcomb

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