Christchurch, New Zealand band Yumi Zouma's second album, Willowbank, is a lush, strings-and-synth-laden record that's as dense as it is pretty. The songs here create a gentle night-time soundscape filled with peaks and valleys, as the band explore themes of love and death — and despite the heavy subjects, there's a perpetual buoyancy and effortless quality to their music that makes it infectious.
"Us, Together" is a perfect example, as wistful strings and new wave guitars play atop a danceable beat. Its bridge fills with the male band members' vocals, a final question lingering: "Is it me, or is it us, together?"
These songs find depth in economy, providing brief yet enveloping glimpses into conflicting emotions. An expanded palette, including strings and saxophone, indicates the band moving outside of bedroom pop, yet their music remains intimate. "Other People" marks a highpoint of the record, mixing the band's laidback energy with singer Christie Simpson's tale of a relationship's dissolution. Dipping into acoustic territory on "Gabriel," the band also mash up dance and strings on "A Memory," where Simpson delivers one of her best lines: "In the silence, I claim my place."
Willowbank is a mature album of exquisite beauty that confirms Yumi Zouma as masters of musical storytelling. (Cascine)