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Yumi Zouma’s Josh Burgess likens the band’s songwriting process to gardening, “Someone brings in a seed and through collaboration, it grows into a song that is vastly different from its original form.” Like any garden, this one requires dedicated tending, a practice that seems rather inconvenient if not straight-up difficult, considering the fact that the four members live in disparate parts of the world – calling New York, London, and New Zealand home – but long-distance has always been a feature of their songwriting process, not a bug. Their new album, Present Tense, is the product of those efforts, a work Christie Simpson describes as “a gallery wall displaying these different moments in each of our lives. A process of curation, revisiting the past and making it relevant to the present.”
You might assume that while some artists have struggled to rethink their processes during a pandemic, Yumi Zouma would be perfectly suited to the COVID-19 lockdown, but the opposite proved to be true. Without looming tour dates driving them to release new music, the prolific band found themselves at a standstill. So they set a date. By September 1st, 2021, the album needed to be finished, regardless of whether they’d be able to tour it or even meet to record together. What began in fits and starts became a committed practice again as Yumi Zouma dug through demos from as early as 2018 to collaborate on and make relevant to the peculiar moment in time the band, and world, was experiencing, memorialized on album opener “Give It Hell.”
Remote and in-person sessions in studios in Wellington, Florence, New York, Los Angeles, and London all played a role, and Yumi Zouma brought in new collaborators from different disciplines to broaden their sound. “This is our fourth album, so we wanted to pivot slightly, create more extreme versions of songs,” Charlie Ryder says. “Working with other artists helped with that, and took us far outside of our normal comfort zone.” You can hear the impulse on “In The Eyes Of Our Love,” a song that’s seemingly twice as fast as any prior release, and closer to the classic rock of Dire Straits than the dream pop aesthetics that the band has built their career on so far. Olivia Campion’s drums crash in hard from the outset, sending the accompanying band into a revelry that only breaks upon arriving at the first bridge, when Simpson sings: “But we won’t lose sight of what we said/ I’ll sing from the dirt instead.”
There’s a defiance heard throughout Present Tense, a refusal to bend to what might seem fated, communicated not only through lyrics but in the boldness of these arrangements, metamorphosing between tracks without ever losing momentum. Two years away from the road gave Yumi Zouma a new appreciation for the friendship they’ve sustained and the opportunity an abundance of time off-cycle offered. Dedicated to an embattled past, Present Tense is the band’s offering to a tenuous future.“To 2020, and the memory of all that was lost,” they write in the album’s liner notes. “Kia Kaha.”
Beauty Queen began after songwriter Katie Iannitello decided to step on the stage after spending years as a scenic painter behind the scenes. Echoes of Kate Bush and Beach House, Beauty Queen is best listened to while smoking at the back end of the parking lot, while skipping 2nd period AP trig. Katie has worked with Tennis, Henry Nowhere (Daywave,Pete Yorn) and Drew Vandenberg (Faye Webster/Kishi Bashi) to make her writing come to life. Beauty Queen’s vintage bedroom pop is reminiscent of Katie’s upbringing on the island of Maui.