LP Walkthrough: Yumi Zouma - Present Tense
New Zealand indie-pop four-piece take us through their enchanting fourth album, track by track
In a year where COVID impacted many artists, Yumi Zouma’s timing was up there, with their third album Truth or Consequences releasing the day the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic and the record’s title taking on a whole new meaning in the process. Two years on and the band are back, with the again appropriately titled Present Tense just released to great reception.
Building on the infectious synth led alternative indie-pop sounds they’ve developed across their last three albums, Present Tense sees the band maintaining their mellow, laid back approach (for the most part), while having a slightly denser, more layered sound and an overall increase in approachability.
When it comes to crafting these tracks, the band’s Josh Burgess compares the process to gardening, saying “someone brings a seed and through collaboration, it grows into a song that is vastly different from its original form.” Keeping it on the analogies, vocalist and keys player Christine Simpson describes the albums as “a gallery wall displaying these different moments in each of our lives.”
To dig into each and every track on the album a bit deeper, Burgess has been kind enough to give us the what’s what for every song on the album. Give the record a spin and get to know Present Tense below!
Give It Hell
The first song we finished for the album. It feels triumphant in the face of uncertainty and disappointments (read: the last two years!) Some lovely strings in there near the end, for some reason that reminds me of Ireland? Unsure why!
Ever seen the Mona Lisa? It’s actually quite small in real life! This was one that was started a while back and went from being quite cute to a bit dark… perhaps a reflection of the time it was completed in? We revived the “Mona Lisa” line in the eleventh hour as I was going through a breakup [and] those weird feelings of your life being yours and yours alone to reconcile with. Some slamming BRASS in the end there, love a good sax moment!
If I Had The Heart For Chasing
A total montage of a couple years of addition and subtraction. It was sort of the backbone of working on this record, as we felt it captured something we wanted out of us early on. Beautiful dark cello from a lovely cellist in LA’s Emily Elkin, and a beautiful vocal performance from Christie. I still tear up when I hear the bridge.
Where The Light Used To Lay
Sometimes a new toy, environment or frame of mind can totally flip something you’re working on. The same day I got a new laptop and took the rent on a new studio in Brooklyn, I opened up this song and the whole ½ time minimal thing came along. Perhaps an ode to The Cars? Kenny Gillmour really did a great mix on this.
This is an oldie. Charlie and I started writing it the day our guitarist Sam Perry told us it was time he moved on to his own endeavors. I remember bursting into tears, not because I was sad he made the call, but [it was] the culmination of knowing that era was over. He’s one of our closest friends and committed a lot of his early twenties to Yumi Zouma. The big distorted outro is an homage to the grit he brought to us.
In The Eyes Of Our Love
What a ripper!! I don’t think we have another song quite like this one. It was a last-minute addition from Charlie, who is always convinced we need to go FASTER. I love how this came out -- it’s really powerful and feels much like our music taste, a total mash of so many different influences. Charlie's girlfriend Val provided a lovely spoken-word [section] in the bridge, as I tried to play like Jerry Garcia (although I’ve never really listened to The Dead, Mac DeMarco always cited his melodic noodlings coming from Jerry, so maybe more Mac!). How good is Olivia on the drums? Unreal!
Of Me And You
Last song we finished on the record. For a long time it had a different chorus and it was an impasse in the band. It’s funny how things feel like a big deal until one day they’re not! The line “floating out of Elsewhere” references the Brooklyn venue a few blocks from my apartment, and that nice faded feeling when you leave a gig or the club. I held that line close when there were no clubs to float out of…
Honestly It’s Fine
Perhaps my fave on the record. The piano intro comes from our good friend Andrew Keoghan, who provides a lot of instrumentation to our music. If I was half as talented as he is at playing one instrument, I’d consider myself lucky!! I wanted to try to have a mix of Air and Fleetwood Mac in there somehow, with the electric and dry ass studio drums. All those sirens from the streets of Brooklyn as I tried to track acoustic guitar in my noisy apartment. The ending is actually the demo of this song I started in 2019. I was walking home and started singing, “Honestly it's fine, the way that you left it,” and ran back to put it down.
This song came to me in Berlin on vacation with my ex-girlfriend. I really thought it was going to be a love song, but to be honest, the lyrics never really felt right -- which is perhaps a little ominous. “I take another's voice and walk around the block” is all that remains from that version. While we were tracking vocals, Christie started unloading details of an emotionally abusive relationship she had as a teenager. It was incredible to hear it all come out, even on a Zoom link. I knew then that the song was no longer mine, and it took on a whole new life. I’m really proud of Christie in this one -- it’s brave to confront something like this in a song.
In the depths of the aforementioned breakup, I flew to LA. I needed the sunshine, I needed the distraction, and I needed to not be in New York. The first day in the studio by myself, I shut off my phone and WiFi, and dove into this. Charlie really turned this song around, and it was time to fill some gaps. I added “when I let it come to me I feel free” into the chorus -- I was at a low point and found comfort in moving through what I was feeling. I grew up in a time where men (especially in New Zealand) were taught to be stoic in the face of emotion. Fuck that, let it come to you, feel it, cry, call a friend and try feel free.