If you’ve been frequenting this site over the course of its almost 12 year history, you may recall that the acclaimed indie synth pop outfit and longtime JOVM mainstay outfit Yumi Zouma signed to Polyvinyl Record Co back in 2020. That same year, they JOVM mainstays released their critically applauded, self-produced third album Truth or Consequences, an album that thematically focused on distance — both real and metaphorical; romantic and platonic heartbreak; disillusionment and feeling (and being) out of reach.
For the overwhelming majority of the bands I’ve covered over the past 12 years, touring is often the most important — and necessary — part of the promotional campaign for an artist’s or band’s new release. Before they hit the road, that artist or band will figure out how to re-contextualize their new material and even previously released material for a live setting, imagining how a crowd will react to what — and how — they’ll play the material in a live set. Like all of the acts across the world, who were touring — or were about to tour–- as COVID-19 struck across the world, the members of Yumi Zouma were forced to end their tour, which included their first ever sold-out, headlining North American dates, and quickly head to their respective homes, leaving scores of their most devoted fans without the opportunity to hear the new album in a live setting.
That October, the JOVM mainstays released Truth or Consequences (Alternate Versions), an album conceived as the band’s response to the lost opportunity to re-contextualize and explore the boundaries of the original album’s material through live engagement with fans.
Last year, Yumi Zouma released two singles:
- “Give It Hell,” a wistful and bittersweet song centered around a classic Yumi Zouma breezy arrangement. But underneath the aching melancholy is a subtle but necessary celebratory note, a reminder that we will find a way to survive and thrive in the most difficult and unusual circumstances — and as someone far wiser than I once sang “all things will pass.”
- “Mona Lisa,” an expansive and breezy pop confection that’s one part New Order and one-part Bruce Springsteen that manages to convey a complicated, shifting emotional state, seemingly influenced and informed by our weird and uncertain moment.
Both of those tracks will appear on the band’s highly-anticipated fourth album, Present Tense. Dedicated to an embattled past, Present Tense is the JOVM mainstays’ offering to a tenuous future. With the members of the band forced to go their separate ways and return to their homes, Yumi Zouma found themselves in an unusual place: “It was disorientating,” the band’s Charlie Ryder says in press notes. ““We generally work at a quick clip and average about a record a year, but with no foreseeable plans, we lost our momentum.”
In response, the members of the band went to work, setting a September 1, 2021 deadline for the album to be finished, regardless of world events. What initially began in fits and starts became a committed practice again as the band worked on new material, digging through demos from as early as 2018 and making them relevant to that particular — and peculiar — moment in time. “Someone brings in a seed,” the band’s Josh Burgess says, “and through collaboration, it grows into a song that is vastly different from its original form.”
“The lyrics on these songs feel like premonitions, in some regards,” says Yumi Zouma’s Christie Simpson says. “So much has changed for us, both personally and as a band, that things I wrote because the words sounded good together now speak to me in ways I didn’t anticipate.”
The album’s material evolved through remote and in-person sessions in Wellington, New Zealand, Florence, Italy, Los Angeles, NYC and London. Those sessions found the band exploring a broader sonic palette that includes pedal steel, piano, sax, woodwind and string arrangements played by friends around the globe. The complex scope of the recordings were then fine-tuned by an array of top mixes including Ash Workman, Kenny Gilmore, Jake Aron with mastering by Antoine Chabert.
“This is our fourth album, so we wanted to pivot slightly, create more extreme versions of songs,” Ryder says. “Working with other artists helped with that and took us far outside of our normal comfort zone.”
Last month, I wrote about “Where The Light Used To Lay,” a single that continued a remarkably run of bittersweet pop confections, centered around Christie Simpson’s achingly tender vocals, shimmering guitars, glistening keys and the JOVM mainstays’ unerring knack for crafting a razor sharp and infectious hook. Interestingly, “Where The Light Used To Lay” has a hopeful, adult perspective on heartbreak, one that seems to say that while you may be down in the dumps today, this too, like all other things, shall end. And you shall yet again find love in all of its complicated, conflicting, nonsensical glory in its due time.
“‘Where The Light Used To Lay’ eventually revealed itself as a bittersweet song about the agony of detangling your life as you break up and the enticing future, clarity, and lightness that the end of the tunnel can offer,” the band’s Josh Burgess explains. “When we first started writing the song in 2019, we were all in long-term relationships. By the time the final mix was completed in the Fall of 2021, only one of those remained (thanks COVID). It’s funny how songs can end up revealing themselves in surprising ways, even to their writers. It’s equal parts confronting and calming, knowing that the subconscious starts processing long before the conscious comes to it. Regardless, it’s nice to have a moment with a song where you go ‘damn, ain’t that the truth.’”
Present Tense‘s latest single “Astral Projection” is a decidedly 80s inspired song centered around glistening, reverb-drenched guitars, gently oscillating synths, jazz-like syncopation, Simpson’s imitable vocals and an infectious hook. The song’s narrator seems to have come to a wobbly sort of acceptance of the end of their relationship and what it means for them and their life,.
“’Astral Projection’ is about leaning into bad feelings and the mixed results it brings,” Yumi Zouma’s Christie Simpson explains. “Learning to sit with the reality of a relationship not working out as you hoped. Looking towards the future and knowing there will be others, there will be better times, but sitting in the present moment, trying to make peace with that.”
Directed by Alex Ross Perry, the accompanying video is the third and final part of a narrative trilogy featuring our familiar trio of protagonists. They’re trapped in the apartment. One of the rooms turns into a forest, where the individual members lose their minds and have wild hallucinations while trying to escape. Some of the experience is playful and hilarious; some of it is terrifying and dark. Once they stop fighting their feelings, the weird experience clears up — and they’re able to finally leave. Their friendship seems tighter than what it was at the beginning as a result.