On their debut album Language, British quintet Zulu Winter kick up an artful ruckus worth getting lost in. Their best, most original tracks pair razor-sharp grooves with soulful melodies and climax in ecstatic layers of rhythm. “Silver Tongue” is a towering synth-sparkle anthem built on giddy, pseudo-disco beats and vocalist Will Daunt’s hair-raising croon, which moves gracefully from his lower register to an atmospheric falsetto that could make Chris Martin weep. The dark, bewitching “You Deserve Better” pushes the rhythms even further, with an icy bass-synth groove and a push-pull chorus of overlapping vocal harmonies.
The worst you can say about these gentlemanly craftsmen is that they can be, well, too gentlemanly: Overlong dance excursions like “We Should Be Swimming” and “Never Leave” feel like warmed-over Coldplay b-sides, and Zulu Winter lose focus when the grooves subside in favor of epic, emotive soundscapes (“Words that I Wield”). But there are two gems for every slice of anonymous filler. “Let’s Move Back to Front”, with its thick cowbell-snare interplay, and sheets of guitar reverb giving way to an avalanche of xylophone pings, is deceptively intricate and nimbly funky. The ass-shaking indie-funk and promiscuous title may conjure post-grads getting frisky, but nobody’s getting any action from the evidence of bookish, Sylvia Plath-black lyrics like “Mind, mind the kindle fire of his dark heart/ And mind the blithering black of day.” It’s the sort of stirring weirdness Language could’ve used just a dash more of.