ZHU – Generation Why Review 


Since emerging onto the scene in 2014, Steven Zhu has put forward an enigmatic approach to pop, often with meaningful undertones. Now, in a debut that explores all things summertime pop, Zhu has laced GenerationWhy’s tracklist with clear-cut electronica – a refreshing sentiment amongst over-compensating and recycled chart-toppers, but also extremely dry.

Zhu announces his mysteriousness within the first track, Intro (Neon City), in which Maya Angelou speaks softly over the hum of a saxophone. Bam – and Zhu is already bending modern tradition. It is refined, evocative; in one minute and ten seconds, Zhu has managed to strike a chord even without a bouncing bass or raging riff. The saxophone sweeps into the next Cold Blooded, in which we see a more conventional electronica approach, with syncopated drums and wavering synths. Yet, he has clearly snatched elements from other genres and artists to mould an individual style. The sporadic muffled vocals almost reiterate Pumped Up Kicks, though the jazz layer adds an exclusive vibrancy. Cold Blooded’s predecessors In The Morning and Secret Weapon are most correspondent to 2016 dancefloor fillers, with a toe-tapping basslines and shuffling drums. Electrify Me steps back in time with retro synths, yet also wouldn’t seem out of place on a Disclosure or Jack Garratt album. Skip Numb and you’ll come across Palm of My Hand. The track opens with a grungy guitar riff before petering out into surges of bassline and spoken word and a whole host of instruments contrary to your usual electronica statement. It embodies the whole album in six minutes, but frankly, it’s a bit boring. It’s certainly interesting and pleasing to hear something different from an electronica artist, but simply repeats what we’ve already heard. Each song becomes reflective of its neighbour.

Hometown Girl, however, diverges from the rest of the tracks. With clearer vocals, a slower tempo and smoother progressions, the song personifies a relaxing beach escape, especially with the addition of the reggae-spin-off guitar to back the chorus. The track also deals with more poignant lyricism, discussing a love with no substance. Nevertheless, the song soon relapses into an energetic synth interval. It adds a different edge to the song, but I seriously wish it wasn’t there. Good Life and Generationwhy round of the album in a more gentle manner, with mellower synths and echoic basses, contrasting to the actual concluding track Working For It. When a track features Skrillex, you know it won’t be the calming type. This highly machine-based closer juxtaposes the whole message of chilled out pop that flows throughout the previous tracks. Granted, it isn’t crazy, but it doesn’t sit right on the tracklist.

GenerationWhy is a difficult one: it challenges our perception of pop culture and electronica, yet after a few tracks you might want to revert to your Years and Years or whatever. It’s captivating and new, and on the whole the tracks are well produced, but monotonous at the same time. It’s a shame.

ZHU – Generation Why: 5/10

Eleanor Chivers

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