Unfounded success can raise suspicion, and there’s nothing typical about Zulu Winter’s rise in Britain’s indie pop-rock scene. Releasing their first single in the fall of 2011, British critics have since been brandishing the five piece’s cool synth-fueled singles as evidence of being the Isle’s next big band, even drawing on comparisons to Coldplay and the Vaccines. The weight of expectation rests on the band’s debut album, Language.
But it’s not a traditional debut. The band’s sound has been whittled after a decade of members playing music together in other projects. From the opening minutes of the album, Zulu Winter feels comfortable and collected. The first track, “Key to my Heart” opens to a cosmic, wailing guitar, which is soon met by tribal drums beats. The two intertwine into a rhythmic dance number. It would be simple to describe Zulu Winter’s tone as “dance-y,” but all the complexities therein would be lost. These tracks have certain nobility that both an audiophile and a footloose can appreciate.
The album follows in a similar fashion, creating catchy riffs and at moments, fist-pumping synth power anthems, but the album blossoms during “Silver Tongue.” A little over three minutes, “Silver Tongue” gives Zulu Winter its much-warranted legitimacy. Will Daunt’s ambiguous (though oftentimes sexual) lyrics blends the driving pulse of the song.
The sexual innuendo continues in “Let’s Move Back To Front” and song structure becomes a little more inventive and varied. Daunt tests the limits of his vocal capabilities on the tail end of the album, sometimes shifting lyrical phrases up an octave. Don’t mistake this album for a lighthearted, dirty sex romp. There’s dark tenderness and frustration that threads delicately throughout several numbers, adding thematic complexity to the Zulu Winter’s well-constructed pop-rock repertoire.
Despite the grit and glory of Language, there are a few misses and stumbles that pockmark the otherwise impressive debut. Some beats begin to feel tired, some lyrics fall short of their far-sighted aspirations and the consistent synth sometimes feels like a crutch, only used to fill space. Language provides a solid groundwork but doesn’t exactly add anything new to the Brit-pop rock conversation. With more writing, touring and musical soul searching, Zulu Winter will hopefully find its own musical niche to call home.