Reckoning with the present is hard. You look back and see regret, things that went wrong that you know you could have changed with hindsight. Maybe you see something or someone from your memories no longer around, though maybe instead of inspiring happiness for what was, it inspires dread and grief. What about the future? It’s uncertain, full with as much possibility as inevitable strife. The present is sandwiched between the two – a result of the past and a bridge to the future – and as such holds perhaps the most complexity.
Life isn’t all good, but it isn’t all bad either, and it’s with that understanding that Yumi Zouma process a world that has changed existence and circumstance for pretty much everyone on the planet with Present Tense. Even the production of this album took a toll – the band have always made do with a long-distance creative process with members living in England, New Zealand, and New York. Still, the past two years have been… anything but normal. The isolation, threat of serious illness, watching loved ones succumb to it, general societal upheaval – take your pick – they all affect us, Swiss cheesing their way through our productivity, motivation, and overall mental health. This, amongst more acute personal stuff I’m sure, caused the longest gap between projects the band have had ever.
Not all bad, though. By the band’s own admission, it allowed songs and ideas to simmer more before blossoming into what we hear on Present Tense and, honestly? They’re all the better for it. I appreciate the band are quite reliable in turning out new content quickly, but it always makes you wonder what would be if they took their time more. Over time, Yumi Zouma‘s music has not only gotten more polished, but also more human. There’s a little less synthetic feel to it (which was fine, mind you) and more organics. They lend themselves well to the group’s dreamy, gazey approach to pop. Nearly every Yumi Zouma song sounds like it’s being processed through your memories; a little hazy and discolored, but formed enough to stir real emotion in your heart.
Their last album, Truth and Consequences, was an absolute force to be reckoned with in terms of melody and memorability – I can still perfectly recall melodies from quite a few songs. Time will tell if Present Tense has that staying power, but having the intro riff of “Give It Hell” and the chorus of “Mona Lisa” regularly enter my mind at inopportune yet appreciated times is probably a good sign. The band haven’t lost it in that sense, at all. The band play with textures so well – it’s hard to find two songs that sound the same on the album because, aside from general structure and, of course, Christie Simpson’s delightful voice, there aren’t many consistent elements.
For a quick peek – though I encourage you to stay the whole time – just compare the tones and instruments of “Honestly, It’s Fine” to something like “Where The Light Used To Lay”. Between those two songs, you’ll hear standard indie pop fare like guitar, drums, and bass, but also horns, some synth, and other instruments I’m honestly too inexperienced to confidently identify. One consistency, though, is a delicate intimacy in all the songs. Whether it’s the warm bath of a track that is “Haunt” or the fastest song I’ve heard from them yet, “In The Eyes Of Our Love” (more like Yumi Zooma), there’s a lot of heart in each lyric. Some songs grip onto love like a life raft, others lament the loss of it or what could have been, again seeing a reflection of the past on the present. But the future has hope – the group’s subtly upbeat nature all but ensures it with an air of optimism and courage, asserting that perhaps the worst is behind and all there is to do now is to do, and feel, better.
If Yumi Zouma command only one mood throughout their work (they don’t, but work with me here), it’s a keen warmth. Nostalgia is a factor as it’s easy to interpret their approach as classical, though not aggressively so, and really it all depends on you. Can you dredge up memories that these songs remind you of? Can your imagination fill in gaps or create all new moments for the music to soundtrack? This band stimulates in ways that not many others do. It’s always exciting to see what they do and Present Tense is absolutely no exception. If they can survive and thrive through the toughest of times, then they can do just about anything – and come out on the other end with some wonderfully pleasant music.
Band photo by Nick Grennon