‘Generationwhy’ is the debut album of faceless dance musician ZHU, and after 2 incredibly successful EPs with this project, this new venture sees him adopting new styles whilst keeping his music as the focus.
For someone who anonymises themselves from their music, ZHU has a very strong image. It was – for a long time – the dark atmosphere that spearheaded ‘THE NIGHTDAY’, which comprised this. But now there has been an infusion of colour both in his sound and in the projects general mien.
Without pigeon-holing it, its easy to see that ‘Generationwhy’ is a much more ‘pop’ album than its predecessors. Saying this, there are reaches into sub-genres that have been previously unexplored. Speaking with The Fader, he says “People have a misconception about pop music. When it’s done really well, it’s great”. The banging dance vibes aren’t absent; they’re sprinkled throughout the album more delicately, with the opening half leaning more towards such sounds.
Tracks ‘Electrify Me’ and ‘Numb’ are trademarks of aforementioned dance vibes. Vocals only appear in repeated clauses, building and releasing tension, followed by dark synth laden drops. ‘Numb’ even borrows a very NIGHTDAY reminiscent re-pitched voice, which fits organically with the track given that that technique is much more so a trope in dance music now than it was in 2014.
At the albums midpoint, an atmospheric guitar solo slows the pace and divides the album into two parts. ‘Palm of my Hand’ is truly one of the highlights of ZHU’s entire discography. A real mix of styles strikes gold as a he croons over a bouncy bass line at the crux of the track. He manages to make 6-minutes interesting with minimal elements (sidenote: please do not make a radio edit of this song). The guitar, piano and sax lines prove no distraction to the feel and stride of the piece, unlike the French at the end – which is on par with the albums stylistic cheese if nothing more.
With a slowing of pace after this in the track listing, interest is only salvaged by the slick, high-level production we’ve come to expect from Zhu. ‘Money’ shifts focus to the vocals, perhaps hard to swallow with the relatively bland nature of the instrumentation and song writing. ‘One Minute to Midnight’ tries harder, but comes off sounding like a ‘Genesis Series’ B-Side. Zhu shows his dance influence in ‘Reaching’ as a dramatic hook carries the track to indifference, coming off as a recycled musical idea.
‘Hometown Girl’ subsequently arrives in a very refreshing manner. It is quite ironic, given the songs typical pop structure. On a similar note, the keystone single ‘Generationwhy’ is the perfect closer (bar the recycled bonus track ‘Working for It’) for the album. Zhu is conscious of the cheesy lyrics and concept of re-birth, “…sometimes cheese is real!”. This track epitomises the theme and feel of the album to a tee. The powerful synth chords create a flow on the track that other elements work into. The guitar and synthesised sax chime in with small melodic ideas whilst high range vocals compliment the whole mix.
A conscious effort has been made to create a flowing auditory story and there is some pay-off in that regard. But with such strong singles, the full-length album might come off to some as quality spread too thin. ZHU’s migration into a new sound hasn’t gone without a hitch; the reward just outweighs the risk. The gems on this album (appearing in multiple different stylistic forms) outweigh and carry the less impressive tracks.
‘Generationwhy’ is available now through Colombia Records.