ZULA are a duo consisting of Xenya Genovese [Freak Slug] and Conor Miller [glue70] “forged in the small hours following big nights”. The union of Xenya’s sultry smooth vocals influenced by 90s shoegaze and lo-fi dream pop with Conor’s genre-bending minimalist sound, one which has garnered him over 35 million streams, sets a very sturdy foundation for the musical monuments they are sculpting together. Coining their process as a project of “experimental experiences”, their five track EP ‘Play’ evokes everything from empathy to epiphany as lilting lyricism and innovative electric composition unite to form instant classics.
‘Come Back’ opens with perforating percussive beats, interwoven with assertive vocals and the crisp, clean sound of cymbals slicing between the bars. The looping lyricism is characteristic of ZULA, a technique that makes the tracks immediately feel familiar as you catch yourself singing along after only one listen, invested in the simplistic narratives of love and lament reminiscent of your own experiences.
The five tracks flit between fickle feelings as we are transported between solitude and sentimentality, and ‘Flame’ recalls the atmosphere between two souls who set each other ablaze. Filled with melodic licks and flickering vocals, the simplistic percussion symbolises the solid foundation a relationship provides for two people, raising Xenya’s smooth soulful vocals to greater heights, the effortless synth like a backing vocalist pining for Conor’s attention but always falling short.
The titular track ‘Play’ stands out for its distinct stylism, showcasing the multifaceted talent of ZULA’s co-contributors. The introduction of male vocals takes the listener by surprise, but they meld so smoothly with Xenya’s that we lean in ever closer, absorbed by the new dichotomy of voices spinning the narrative this way and that. The hints of neo-soul and R&B make the EP feel like a feature from Joy Crookes or Jorja Smith awaits us on the next track, but in all honestly Xenya holds every track up on her own accord. The modern repurposing of soulful melodies over piano lilts and electronic beats, a constant joy.
“The pattern with which this duo produce and collaborate is incredibly clever. The repetitive sampling of intricately articulate sounds make each track reminiscent of the last”
As the heat from the initial ‘Flame’ fades, ‘Unreliable’ carries a familiar atmosphere of disappointment of one let down by someone they were invested in. Xenya’s vocals hold an attitude that punctuates the track with every syllable, tactically clashing with Conor’s pacey dialogue to represent the conflict at play. This to-and-fro contrasts against a beautiful Eastern base melody that fades and fades until we’re dragged into the Western ‘Winter Blues’.
The softer intro to the conclusive track pairs with the tone of the title, as the silky piano melody layers over us like a duvet on a January day, covering us from the ‘Winter Blues’, smothering us in our own solitude. The pacey percussion is relentless, like life going on outside our window as the slower vocals reflect our own pace indoors, often hard to hear behind the bustling everyday. As the track cascades into two final bars of jazz piano we are back on our own, pressing play on an old movie and blocking out his call and the noise beyond our own four walls.
The pattern with which this duo produce and collaborate is incredibly clever. The repetitive sampling of intricately articulate sounds make each track reminiscent of the last. By the end of ‘Play’, ZULA’s sound has become like a memory of a song playing in a café on an Autumn afternoon, an earworm of sorts that you never tire of. Every soundbite is an illusion of effortlessness, when in fact even the spaces between the beats are considered. Each breath saturated in silence is there to emphasise Xenya’s sugary vocals which are dusted over Conor’s sonic slices, all of which served up to us in a delectable EP ready and waiting to be devoured.