best of 2014: new artist

we kicked off our year-end awards rather inconspicuously with a mixtape ode to orchid tapes nearly two weeks ago, but the rapid succession of accolades begins today.  the “best new artist” category is a subjective one, with different artists qualifying for different publications depending on the format and length of their output that year.  in 2013, we drew from a pool of bands that had not even existed the year prior, but we’re easing up on our restrictions this time around to focus on bands that released their debut ep – or those that bypassed directly to a full-length – in 2014.  cool?  cool.

a lot of retroactive research was done, and interestingly enough, our winner was one that didn’t even grace the site this year (although some words on them did show up here.)  just goes to show how fallible these small blogs can be.  oh well.  without further ado, here’s our pick for the best new artist of 2014.

– best new artist: yumi zouma –

countless artists tried to claw their way to recognition via soundcloud this year; streaming has become an even more integral component of musical consumption, and sites that compile streaming data to monitor the success of songs have become wildly influential.  amongst the influx, yumi zouma stood out.  for starters, they hit the ground running with an indelible self-titled ep released through cascine in early february, a four-track effort that fit right in with the label’s balmy electronic aesthetic.  “a long walk home for parted lovers” and “the brae” both contain astute songwriting and strong vocal hooks, but yumi zouma isn’t merely propped up by its singles.  “sålka gets her hopes up” accomplishes its task with a sturdy bass line, sensibly augmented with more trebly timbres on the song’s chorus, and “riquelme” is the slightly bleak closer the ep needs, its murkiness jousting its brevity for the title of most important quality.

while a majority of synth-pop steers towards feelings of elation and general positivity, yumi zouma should be commended for their apathetic take on the genre.  kim pflaum’s voice is sultry but her delivery is entirely off the cuff, seeming to shrug her shoulders at the less-than-ideal subject matter on “a long walk home for parted lovers.”  hints of intimacy seem apparent – the mixed-gender vocal layering is somewhat reminiscent of the xx – but yumi zouma seems to thrive on keeping the audience at an arm’s-length away.  no piece of their output is particularly anthemic, but none of it needs to be; the muted, bass-heavy instrumentation that pervades is the perfect antidote to the increasingly bombastic nature of so much electronic pop.

yumi zouma turned the heads of other artists throughout 2014 as well.  the band supported chet faker on a string of sold-out shows in australia before catching the eye of lorde, who brought her fellow kiwis along to her homecoming shows in new zealand this fall.  this meteoric rise in popularity and exposure was accompanied by a new single, “alena,” which compounded the winning formulas of their self-titled ep into something even more promising.  “alena” contains the band’s first big hook, a swirling chorus beefed up by a pulsating, balearic bass line and enhanced with hints of piano.  the song is most likely the by-product of shifting yumi zouma from the bedroom to the stage, but it’s telling that the band can so easily flesh out their sound while remaining true to their ethos.

having played the last of their 2014 shows this past week, yumi zouma is back home in new zealand, although its members are mum on any forthcoming projects.  an album would be the next logical step, but anything the band offers up from this point forward will likely be received with open arms.  in an era when musical carbon copies are incessantly shoved down throats, yumi zouma effortlessly provides a more soothing alternative.

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