the praise and accolades yumi zouma have received so far from this site – and a good portion of the music sphere across the internet – are far too numerous to try and sift through. the new zealand quartet caught the attention of lorde based on the strength of their four-track debut ep alone; their subsequent slot as her tour’s opening act in late 2014 opened a pandora’s box of speculation that such early exposure necessitated a foray into more stadium-ready pop, but correlation does not always equal causation.
yumi zouma’s subsequent sophomore ep was populated with richer, more confident songs, to be sure, but you can easily chalk that up to the gradual progression of getting comfortable as a long-distance songwriting collective. tracks like “alena” and “song for zoe & gwen” registered a newfound depth and pulse, but the subtle change in aesthetic felt more indicative of ceiling-clearing confidence than of a purposeful shift in trajectory.
after surpassing all expectations and cementing themselves as critical darlings, yumi zouma hunkered down to try something new: writing music together in the same geographic location. the result is yoncalla, a gorgeous ten-song debut album that plays through incredibly smart, cool, and confident, reflecting a level of experience well beyond the band’s tenure.
it’s hard to listen to yumi zouma and not at least subconsciously conjure up images of sun-kissed, carefree summer days. each song on yoncalla would easily have a home on any self-curated beach day mixtape, from the bleary-eyed guitar strums on the conversational “haji awali” to the percolating synth arpeggios on “barricade (matter of fact)” to the triumphant, driving-off-into-the-sunset lilt of “short truth.” through this lens, these are songs that almost mandate an ocean breeze and cool sand between one’s toes for a comprehensive sensory experience, but stopping short at this superficial – albeit gorgeous – aesthetic would be a disservice to the album.
the true beauty of yoncalla is the pervasive presence of camaraderie woven through its sunny exterior. yumi zouma’s early success was defined by four incredibly talented songwriters creating intimate sketches piecemeal from around the globe, and that intimacy grew tenfold once the quartet all settled down in the same room.
it’s immediately evident on the effortless vocal repartee that pervades “text from sweden” and “haji awali,” but yumi zouma’s kinship runs even deeper elsewhere on yoncalla. eloquent melodies are constructed for christie simpson to trace on “remember you at all” and “better by your side,” and provide support and solidarity as she navigates through the insecurities of a turbulent relationship. this structure seems to reflect a newfound degree of trust between members that may well have been fostered by a shared writing space; a noticeable strength of intertwining melodies and reliance on robust counterpoint seems more indicative of in-the-moment creation than of construction via file-sharing.
yoncalla is impeccably cohesive. each track bleeds seamlessly into the next, although the album isn’t linear so much as it is semidiurnal, its ebbs and flows placed at perfect intervals. the final tide goes out with “drachma,” a lovely subdued coda that briefly hearkens back to the group’s early days before its palm-muted main motif disappears beyond the horizon.
yumi zouma’s brand of nostalgia has often felt akin to reconnecting with a long-lost friend; with yoncalla, they provide the perfect soundtrack for the two of you to crack open a cold drink and reminisce for awhile.
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