Album Review: Zulu Winter – Stutter

By on Wednesday, 16th July 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

I know it’s inevitable in my life as a music editor, but it doesn’t make it any easier to witness the sad break-up of bands I have come to know and love. Last month, London five-piece Zulu Winter announced that they were splitting up. You could practically hear the sound of my heart breaking. I always say things in life happen for a reason, and that includes the people that come into your life too. During my first SXSW in 2012, I met Will, Iain, Dom, Henry and Guy to do an interview with them. After a bewildering week in Austin, meeting such truly nice guys who were jokey and sweet was just what the doctor ordered.

Two months later, I accidentally ran into them on the first day of my first Great Escape while they were unpacking their van in the middle of Brighton. What are the odds of that? Had to be more than a coincidence. Later that night, when I couldn’t get into Brighton Dome, I went to see them play at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar and they were so appreciative that I’d come to see them. Last year, I was minding my own business, having dinner alone in a pub one night in Brighton when I heard someone calling my name. It was their guitarist Henry Walton, remembering me from the first time we met, then asking me how I was and saying how great it was to see me. It’s little things like this that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

So it feels very cutting personally that they’re calling it quits and even though several of them are starting an entirely different project, it’s heart-wrenching to me that I will never see Zulu Winter again how I remember them. Thankfully, instead of leaving us with just one album to their name (2012’s ‘Language’), the band came together to record one final release. ‘Stutter’, which is being called a mini-album in the press sheets I’ve read, is actually not a mini-album at all but instead a 10-pack of songs.

It starts in a very promising way, with band members’ harmonies and then singer Will Daunt’s voice emphatically rising before the funky beats come in on the driving ‘Trigger’. Later in the album at lucky #7, Daunt’s voice is up to its ‘Language’-era acrobatic sweeps heights in ‘The Drift’, holding its own against the dancey bass beats and the sexy guitar line. As Daunt sings “I’m stuck in the drift / there once was a time / when I felt absolutely free / but I stumble and shake / try to screw it all up and twist it into shape” with the swirling instrumentation, you’re reminded how great this band really are. Or I suppose I should now use the word ‘were’, past tense. Both these songs are attention grabbing, as were standout former singles ‘We Should Be Swimming’ and ‘Silver Tongue’ in their own time. It should be noted that the beats, and neither dreaminess nor pop, are placed in the forefront of most of the songs on ‘Stutter’, which is an interesting development in the band’s sound and possibly a harbinger of why they decided to split?

Some of these tracks are more experimental and less pop than we’re used to in the previous incarnation of Zulu Winter. In the cases of ‘Feel Love’ and ‘Need You Onside’, the former is an attempt at electronic soul, while the latter builds up to a Beatles late ’60s psychedelic trip but sports a title that seems more appropriate for World Cup time. ‘Games’ and ‘The Other Man’ sound like Field Music if they’d just swung more pop. And slightly more conventional. Psychedelic, swirling rock instrumentation wraps itself around Daunt’s falsetto soars on ‘Heavy Rain’, an early taster released in June (promo video below), while ‘Silence is Golden’ is anything but silent, with plenty of wigged out synths and guitars.

‘Let Sleep Close Your Eyes’, with its buzzing ’70s era synth, is the best example of how the album’s press sheet describes the album: “a very sad ELO”. Perhaps the slower tempo throughout the album suggests a sadness in one’s ears, but I don’t detect sadness in how this was written or recorded, which I take as a good thing, confirmation that these five young men are still friends, even if they are no longer in a band together.

The only sour note here is how the album ends, strangely with ‘Bodies’, which (I hope entirely unintentionally) sounds more like Ellie Goulding‘s ‘Lights’, the bobbing synth notes seeming far too joyful than makes sense for this LP as a whole. Maybe the point was to leave us with something brighter, to indicate the brighter days ahead? All in all though, ‘Stutter’ is an interesting collection of songs that will leave us wondering “what if?” when it comes to Zulu Winter, but also appreciative that they have granted us this final gift. Good luck fellas, I know our paths will cross again sometime soon.

8/10

‘Stutter’, Zulu Winter‘s final album release, is out digitally next Monday (the 21st of July) on Fierce Panda Records.

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