The first time I saw Zula was at the Due Diligence album release party. I enjoyed This Hopeful, but was curious if it would translate to the stage. It was, to say the least, a spectacular display of agency. The members of Zula not only know what they’re doing on their instruments, but they deploy their mediums with such a tactful grace and intention; I was blown away.
Almost a year old now, This Hopeful, is a compelling exploration of ethereal sounds and seamlessly flowing pop structures. Drones meet melody which reach soothing harmonies, and magnetization occurs as parts become whole. The engineering behind the album alone creates a three-dimensional perspective; ambient sounds seem to come form every direction, either lying underneath or coming forward, and melodies and rhythms are cut up and divided between left and right ears. Regardless of whether Zula’s sound might be “experimental” or not, it certainly makes me want to move every time they hit the stage. The band can groove, and best of all I can see them alongside a great variety of artists. On “Poison”, the bass kicks in to an immediate understanding that Zula wants you to dance as much as they want you to zone out. Over all, the sheer range of sounds that Zula explore, both analogously and digitally, is impressive, making the musical diversity of TV on the Radio a likely comparison.
Does anyone remember They Might Be Giants? They had that one song about how Constantinople was turned into Istanbul, and they came out with a bunch of goofy kids albums. As one of my favorite bands growing up, they taught me to appreciate humor in music, how music could be educational, and just how wonderful it could make me feel in general. It wasn’t just their funny content, but their wonderfully uplifting and creative melodies which matched whatever silly subject they were singing about down to a T. Not only do Zula’s two main vocalists—cousins Henry and Nate Terepka—sound uncannily similar to John Linnell and John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants, but their music reminds me of the child-like wonder and spirit that TMBG managed to capture. The two bands are quite different in the ways that they operate, but Zula holds a special place for me because of the original child-minded wonder I had for music, even if it was only sparked by the similar vocal timbres. I remember that day that my mom took my brother and I to see They Might Be Giants perform No! at The New Victory Theater in Midtown. It was a magical time and I remember marveling at what live music could actually be. That’s what I thought about eight years later as I stood in the dingy sweat-coated, and much less grand, space that is Shea Stadium watching another great band make me feel something.