New Zealand has undergone a bit of a pop music resurgence recently. Kimbra, Ladyhawke and that one who sung Royals have all managed to keep themselves busy by making waves internationally over the past couple of years. Once you add in blogosphere favourites Broods and Thomston, you begin to see why New Zealand is quickly making a name for itself as a “key territory for pop music in the world.” Rightly so, given that what we’ve heard from the various islands over recent months has been really rather good.
No strangers to this Kiwi buzz are Yumi Zouma, the line-up changing collective formed from a group of NZ friends who’ve spent the past year or so chucking out some of the sweetest, haziest and dreamiest pop tracks to grace the Internet in some time. Following frequent peakings at the top of the Hype Machine chart and a sold-out run of rather pretty vinyl, their label (the lovely Cascine, home to this sort of very good fluffy pop) has thrown it all into this concise and complete package, aptly titled EP Collection. Sort-of greatest hits and sort-of portfolio, this “LP” brings together Yumi Zouma’s two EPs, along with a handful of separate singles, from one of the most blogged about New Zealand groups of the past few years. So far, so good.
The first half of this album takes the shape of debut release EP I, infamously pieced together from various corners of the planet (France, America and New Zealand) via Dropbox, after their collective home was destroyed in Christchurch’s 2011 earthquake. Using the disaster as a chance to scatter across the globe, their connection lingered in exchanged voice-memos and file-shares, resulting in their signature dreamy, drowsy sound. A fitting tag for a band whose music is often assembled in semi-conscious states after sending demos back-and-forth across conflicting time zones.
Yumi Zouma’s mix of cloudy, chill wave-y pop-funk instantly comes to light on opener A Long Walk Home For Parted Lovers, a sun-kissed slow-groove featuring Kim Pflaum’s soothing vocals. Amid the minimal and delicate production, it’s hard to picture a voice better suited for the music presented here. Both Sålka Gets Her Hopes Up, about “a young Danish girl crushing on a boy” apparently, and The Brae, the name of the street their house was situated, both continue the glossy nostalgic feel in the opening track. It’s reminiscent of a disco-ed up Fleetwood Mac, equal parts Little Lies and Rhiannon. Pflaum’s lyrics shine through as a highlight here; the yearning “I’ll always give it to you honest / I’ll always try to solve your every problem” correcting anyone who suggests that dance music doesn’t explore the quirks of the human heart.
A line-up switch later and we get to side B; a showcase of the group’s EP II. Alena, second track here and clear LP standout, ditches the warm and sunny feel for 30 seconds of drizzling rainfall. Come the track’s finish four minutes later, Yumi Zouma have ventured in from the rain and made a few rounds of the club, adopting some heavy keys and house-y beats in the process. It’s their most authoritative sound yet, still keeping the young bands “treat the luxurious and the spiritual as the same breed” ethic at the forefront.
Catastrophe throws up a significantly ‘80s vibe, Pflaum backed with a synth choir and superb bass line whilst the collection’s softest moment, Song For Zoe & Gwen, washes over like breath of fresh air. “Whatever gives you trouble through the night”, Pflaum sings in an elevated and uplifting chorus.
It comes as no shock then that the LP’s couple of brand new songs fit right in with the harnessed and delightful sound YZ have created. The disco-tinted EP offcut Right, Off The Bridge could be the band’s strongest moment yet, with Pflaum’s vocals submerged in a blend of uplifting guitar riffs and vocoder samples. A cover of Air France’s It Feels Good To Be Around You, featuring the now-parted ways French dance duo themselves, may be the collection’s low-point in terms of vocals and production, but the other songs here are more than enough to let his slip.
The 11 tracks presented on ‘EP Collection’ quite easily live up to the sheer volume of hype they’ve received from the blogosphere and their almost cult-like following. Whilst it’s rather strange to see a debut-less band form a Greatest Hits collection, the group can only be praised for the pervasive nostalgia and instantly placeless feeling they’ve created. It’s as though these songs have come from anywhere – and yet were made everywhere – across the globe. Yumi Zouma have quickly become the band we’d rather didn’t reunite.