Yumi Zouma: Yoncalla

Scott Wallace
25th May 2016

Yumi Zouma don't really sound like a band in the traditional sense - and that's not an insult. Their early EPs were assembled over the internet, across the ocean, piece-by-piece. The former Christchurch-dwellers had been displaced across the globe by the calamitous earthquake that struck the city in 2011, but they didn't allow thousands of miles to stop them from collaborating. On Yoncalla, their debut full-length album, they are back together, but the record still has the precision and perfection of having been meticulously assembled. When playing, Yumi Zouma never miss a beat, but when listening to them, your heart might.

Music like this almost seems like a reaction to the maximalism that has taken hold of a lot of contemporary music. Yumi Zouma pull right back, and there is an intriguing nakedness to the way their kick drums thump and their hi-hats hiss and their keyboards chime and their guitars shiver almost completely unadorned. Yoncalla has the rhythm and pull of dance music, but the quietness and intimacy of a confession or a whisper, and the comforting warmth of a gently held hand.

The band combine some unusual influences. Tracks like "Text from Sweden" and "Keep It Close to Me" recall the crisp electronic pop characteristic of Scandinavia, whereas the sun-dappled acoustic guitar on "Haji Awali" sounds more like the the indie jangle of the iconic New Zealand label Flying Nun, or The Go-Betweens. Upon repeat listens, details emerge from the mix. The sustained sense of mellowness throughout threatens to make the record sound repetitive, but the band are very willing to throw in a curveball like the hip-hop influenced rhythm and flowing guitar of highlight "Better When I'm by Your Side."

Lead vocalist Christie Simpson has a small range and a soft voice, but it folds perfectly into the band's breezy arrangements. She sighs wistfully, but she also proves her deftness on the skipping, propulsive "Remember You At All," one of the album's peaks with its overlapping, swirling melodies and hazy sound. Yumi Zouma are decidedly restrained and un-flashy, so when they launch into the sparkling and gorgeous "Short Truth," the effect is completely breathtaking - each swell, no matter how small, feels like the crest of a wave.

Yoncalla is the kind of album you will immediately like, but when you return to it you can easily grow to love it. It doesn't feel like a grand statement, but at the same time the band have tapped into something that is very modern and ultimately quite unique. When the softly orchestrated, twilit "Drachma" closes the album, it utterly tingles with the potency of this young band. Across the short and sweet Yoncalla, Yumi Zouma play with the indie pop formula to their hearts' contents, and the resulting chemistry is quietly explosive.

Yoncalla is out on vinyl and digital formats on Friday May 27th.