Having the reaction of a dudebro with his chest painted, screaming, “let’s go! WOO!” after his team scores a goal at the playoffs isn’t exactly the reaction most people expect one to have to a girly, glittery alt-pop record. But let’s explore why Willowbank by Yumi Zouma elicits exactly that reaction.
All it takes is the first few seconds of “Depths (Pt. 1)” for the listener to take a sigh of relief and kick off their proverbial shoes, because this band, Yumi Zouma, clearly gets it. What is “it?” It changes every five minutes, but for now, it’s a smooth, Strokes-ian glossy retro pop. It’s where alternative music is enjoying a boom right now – in being happy. Any kind of happiness is hard to convey convincingly these days because it’s so rare in all forms of popular media right now (especially music). This sonic introduction to Willowbank stakes a claim that the masses can relax. There are people out there that know how to be reflective and nostalgic, but all with a tempered, cool demeanor. A demeanor that feels authentic, like this ’70s smoothness by way of Chromeo is the score to one cool individual’s life. There’s power there, innately. In a time of uncertainty, Yumi Zouma knows exactly who they are.
Beyond just that philosophy, however, there is evolution. The vibraphone weaved throughout “Persephone” and several other songs double down on the lounge element in a way that hasn’t really been heard before. Wild Nothing uses vibes exquisitely on “Reichpop,” but where that is more of a production in and of itself, the songs on Willowbank acts best as inoffensive mood music, which is the best kind of pop music; something to score a better life.
Many of the songs begin to run together, though. The different musical ideas are very subtle, which acts as both a strength and a weakness. The pure shine of “December” loses some of its luster on “Half Hour,” which is a more stripped down, almost early Local Natives song, but ultimately feels like its predecessors with less punch. Willowbank’s greatest strength is that undeniable ability to simply groove. Each song rides its own wave with slightly different colors unique to each one. It’s taken a few years for groovy music like this to find the right kind of synth to compliment it, and the pops and chimes on “In Blue” and “A Memory” provide strong examples of a fresh, clean sound to augment upon the groove and lush strings in a way that just makes one want to wake up the next morning, clean your room, and go get an acai bowl.
By the time the reflective reprise of the first song comes around – “Depths (Pt. II)” – the mind begins to reflect on the success of making ’70s and ’80s grooves modern in today’s music scene. The modernization comes from having that undeniable pop shine, as well as the ability to simply chill and reflect. Escapism for some doesn’t have to be such a grand idea. It can mean dreaming of being a productive, classy but still hip individual who has their life together. In this time of chaos, that is really why Yumi Zouma provides a way for young listeners to understand why trends of the past ring so true to mom and dad.