Depending on which side of the critical fence—or the pond, in this case—you stand, being described as “the new Snow Patrol”, “a sort of rhythmical Coldplay”, and opening for Keane could pass for either praise or thinly veiled judgment. So far, Oxfordshire fivesome Zulu Winter have earned such comments from their countrymen, who have hailed them as the new Vaccines after the release of singles like “We Should Be Swimming” and “Never Leave” off their debut LP, Language. Whether American audiences will be as impressed remains to be seen, since the band’s swelling synthpads skirt Afrobeat just as well as any other band jostling for a foothold in an already overcrowded niche.
For a band that spent a year in solitude writing and recording Language, Zulu Winter sound an awful lot like everyone else out there, like the UK’s Polarsets and Brooklyn-based Milagres (and the beginning of “Never Leave” barks, somewhat surprisingly, like Explosions in the Sky’s “Trembling Hands”). Frontman Will Daunt’s falsetto yearns toward Hayden Thorpe’s on tracks like “Moments Drift” and “Let’s Move Back to Front”, which also juxtaposes Wild Beasts’ icy xylophones with dominating snare and rim hits. That song breaks out of the album’s synthetic tribal lockstep only when it sounds like it’s not supposed to, about a minute and a half before the end when electric guitars warm to a horn-like tone.
This holds true for “Words That I Wield”, which builds over Daunt’s lyrics about dragons and breathing fire that would be ridiculous if not for the dead seriousness in his climbing pitch. Like the rest of the album, the chorus repeats a few too many times, but he’s wielding these words, and the meta-canon they form by the end of the song haunts more than the album’s single-worthy beats, which wear thin after they wear a hole in your ear. Single “Silver Tongues”, for example, is catchy enough at first, but there’s little substance or warmth beneath the bass-yoked backbeat.
Language may be “initially catchy but offers layers of depth to the attentive fan”, according to Daunt, but faced with such stiff competition, it might not offer enough to grab and keep attentive fans in the first place.
Essential Tracks: “Let’s Move Back to Front”, Words That I Wield”