Album Review: Yumi Zouma – Present Tense

[Polyvinyl; 2022]

Yumi Zouma’s fourth LP Present Tense is a liminal combination of premonition and nostalgia, a collaboration of disparate disciplines and urgency. The New Zealand band released their previous album on the day the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic – just as they were embarking on their first sold out North American tour. They went back to their separate homes in New Zealand and tried to restart writing, remotely. Lyrics written by happenstance but meaningful in hindsight were combined with demos sourced from as far back as 2018. Pedal steel guitar, pianos, saxophones, woodwinds, and strings combined into this zero-waste recipe; the band brought together a Britannica of ideas that feels like an adolescent romance, capricious and unpredictable.  

The record opens with a post-80s poppy vibe in “Give It Hell”. As the title suggests, the band yearned to give their fans their best performance as the lights went out on the touring industry. Christie Simpson’s ethereal vocal melodies provide a welcomed ear-worm that stays with you through the rest of your listen.  

Keeping it mercurial, a transition that sounds like a different band’s experiment, we get to enjoy the more sultry aspect of Christie’s vocal persona in “Mona Lisa”. The choice of the saxophone interlude by Andrew Keoghan can be explained by the band’s use of friends’ recordings of instrumentation from around the globe. This support allowed the band to complete the project in their typically quick-clipped style.  

Christie’s bubblegum vocals continue to be the standout instrument in the next two tracks. Aside from her voice, the rest of the production is a compressed bed of sounds from drums to the horns. Christie’s vocals are your new crush; relish in them as the strings take you out of “If I Had The Heart For Chasing” and the drums bounce you into “Where the Light Used to Lay”.   

While her vocals dominate the beginning of the album, the second half gives a fresh slow down in electronic accompaniment. A Hall & Oates “I Can’t Go For That”-esque drum intro begins “Razorblade”, leading us into a slow dance between Christie’s and Josh Burgess’ vocals. You find yourself in a dimly lit room, wrapped up in your thickest sweater, letting the bassline and soft palate of tones rock you to and fro until it closes with fuzzy electric guitar and she tells you to stay. 

“In the Eyes of Our Love” provides an abrupt energy change and gives us something of a Yumi Zouma and The Bangles ‘happy accident’. The vocal production dries out and the drums dominate. By this point in the album the formula of their arrangements becomes clear, providing cohesion in an otherwise-as-designed collaborative style. “Honestly It’s Fine” gives us more variation in synths and guitar effects that warble and rubber band. As subtle as they are, you want more of that throughout. 

Pitched down, distorted, and harmonized vocals couple with the synth in “Haunt” while the galloping rhythm finds you shuddering your shoulders along. There is such a sweetness in the track; the chorus is a premonition: you will not get over it, that one that got away.   

Yumi Zouma close with a chorus and delayed guitar in “Astral Projection”: another departure from a tenaciously arranged record. It is clear that the band used several mixers as the warmth here is consistent with the mix in “Of Me and You” but dissimilar to other tracks. 

With this pivot and expanded repertoire, the group attempted to create “more extreme versions of song” utilizing new collaborations to push outside their synth pop roots. As an experiment, the album hints at expansion but it feels restrained, afraid to really push hard. Even still, Present Tense has a little something for everyone and is a perfect launching pad for the next one. The talent is so there, don’t be afraid.