A dazzling and moving collection of prestine Britpop.
There’s something special about the smooth sound, catchy melodies, and luscious production British indie pop. Usually, these artists are able to capture grand emotions with electrifying arrangements and heartfelt performances. On its debut album, Language, London’s Zulu Winter do just that. The record is full of poignant, exciting, and simple yet profound songs that continue to resonate long after they conclude.
Formed a couple years ago, the quintet (Iain Lock, Henry Walton, Will Daunt, Dom Millard, and Guy Henderson) have steadily been growing a following and reputation within the genre scene. Really, their sound could be assessed as a less orchestrated and more biting variation of the Last Shadow Puppets (a supergroup comprised of members of Arctic Monkeys, the Rascals, and Simian). There’s a touch of punky edge and '80s synth inside of the poppy exterior, and for a debut album, Language is remarkable cohesive and confident.
"Key to My Heart" builds slowly at the start, allowing glamorous soundscapes, echoing vocals, and direct percussion to welcome listeners to the record. Lyrically, the track seems to harken back to the romantic radio hits of the late 1950s and early 1960s, although the delivery is pure English charm. Naturally, the guitar timbres resemble those of 1980s greats like the Smiths and the Chameleons. It's an energetic opener. Similarly, "We Should Be Swimming" is a bit more fun and free, and its many layers provide quite a wondrous experience.
Somewhat more introspective and cautionary, "Bitter Moon" is a very engaging track thanks to its bold dynamics and harmonies, while "Small Pieces", with its piercing melody and eerily askew effects, is easily one of the most affective and arresting tracks. It's a fine example of how a central guitar riff can enhance a song exponentially. By contrast, "Silver Tongue", although likely still concerning issues with romance, is much more lively and eccentric; it has the same spirit as much of the Killers' work (which, circularly, is a partial homage to older Britpop).
"You Deserve Better" allows space to fill in the gaps between the group's countermelodies and starry keyboard motifs, and "Words That I Wield" features the best synthesis of songwriting and extravagance on Language. "Never Leave" is fairly dissonant for most of its duration; however, the closing minute, in which the group sings, "we should be swimming" (a clever bit of conceptual continuity), is sublimely delicate, and it segues into the closing track, "People That You Must Remember", perfectly. As for this final piece, it acts as hopeful closure for the more damaging views that preceded it. It's beautiful.
Although Language is mostly consistent in its quality, some listeners may feel that one track, "Let's Move Back to Front", is a bit too cheesy and playful. It sort of undermines the themes that bookend it (musically, if not lyrically). Still, its upbeat charisma is appealing even if it feels a bit out of place.
Language is quite an impressive debut. Zulu Winter masterfully juxtapose adventurous and sexualized production with [mostly] touching, sorrowful songs. In other words, it's something you can dance to in public and reflect on in private. That's not an easy balance to maintain, but Zulu Winter does it well here.