A buddy of mine, whose music taste I respect quite a bit, showed me the LA based DJ, ZHU, not long ago and I’ve been really intrigued ever since. His sound is something that I think really pushes the boundaries in a number of ways, particularly in his willingness to blend styles and approaches. His new EP, Nightday (released cheekily on 4/20, not a mistake methinks) is a 6 track roller-coaster that uses a deep-house lens through which he encounters a number of different stylistic elements. As I’ve said before, I don’t think any conclusions should be made about an artist until you’ve engaged with their entire body of work. Sadly, in the spirit of brevity, we don’t write reviews on an entire artist’s discography (just look at the previous overview written on Baths, I wish I could have written 10 pages on his two albums). Regardless, I’ve selected two tracks off of ZHU’s Nightday that I found particularly interesting, which hopefully will prompt you, reader, to then go on and listen to the entire album and draw your own conclusions. The tracks I’ve chosen for this post are “Cocaine Model and “Paradise Awaits,” which I believe are the two most compelling tracks on the album. Some would say “Faded” is the strongest track on the album, but I think that these two tracks are more in tune with ZHU’s general philosophy, regardless of how much attention “Faded” has gotten so quickly. Both “Cocaine Model” and “Paradise Awaits” are not immediately drum and bass or deep-house oriented. They absolutely incorporate those elements, but I think ZHU actually produced a smooth R&B and quasi-Pop House track, respectively. Let’s start with “Cocaine Model.”
How many deep house tracks do you know start with a hipstery “talking in a bar” sample? Very few. That’s some Snakehips, Tropics, shit right there. Anyway, moving past that you get this subtle drum beat that comes from the abyss that eventually develops into this really bouncy bass line, reminiscent of the early drum and bass days. Then it gets sexy (yeah that is moaning in the background). The synth comes in so smoothly and ties in with the vocal almost seamlessly. The vocal is such a refreshing surprise because it’s so damn shallow. It feels like soulful plea of love, but the lyrics are quite less tender, focused more on the sexual aspects of a night out.
Love the way you wear that dress, even though your hair’s a mess
She said it’s Isabelle Marant, and I’ve got everything you want
Only question’s can you hang?
And that’s just the beginning. The lyrics go on to discuss going on her parent’s jet to Paris and other such storytale tropes. But I think that the lack of depth in the vocal is meant to trick you, because the music is telling a different story entirely. Anyone who’s read my earlier reviews knows that I tend to not delve into lyrics too often, because I like to focus on the music, but I think that this track does a great job of using the lyrics as just another element to grapple with through the music. The bass is rich like a bar of dark chocolate that blends perfectly with the weight of the bass that skips between a toned “deep house” style bass line, to a simple percussive bass drum. The vocal itself, despite what the lyrics tell you, feel loving and passionate. It could easily be an R&B melody with a funky bass and piano, but instead it’s a synth and a deep house toned bass. It shouldn’t work, but then you think about it and it just does. “Paradise Awaits” is a different beast entirely.
“Paradise Awaits” starts a bit differently. Honestly, the first time I heard this I thought ZHU had sampled a Destiny’s Child vocal. It’s this really odd sort of disco funk vocal that doesn’t seem to fit with the sort of menacing bass line that lurches forth between the verses and reminds you that ZHU likes his deep house. Yet again, his vocal is a sort of red herring that distracts you from the other things he’s doing in the background, that surprise you when he finally brings them forward. What ends up coming out is a surprisingly dancey, almost house, track. It sort of reminds me (and it’s probably just me) of mid-2000s Euro house, think Alex Gaudino and Eric Prydz. Obviously, that’s absurd and most people would shoot me for comparing the two, but I’m just trying to get you guys to see something different. This song felt super dance focused and it’s because of that incredibly melodic and rhythmic vocal. It puts this dance flavor on the track, that allows the really heavy bass elements to not take over the track and dominate, like so many other deep house producers do. That’s why I find ZHU so damn interesting. He’s willing to go there and maybe take a stab at something that shouldn’t conventionally work. So please listen to both of these tracks below and then head over to ZHU’s soundcloud and listen to the rest of Nightday, which includes some other really interesting tracks, like “Stay Closer.” As always, comment below with your thoughts or suggestions!