Zhu makes night-time music. Whether this is in the sense of night-time as the time of clubs and dancing, of late-night walks, or even late-night smoking sessions, it is very much night. Like many dance producers, Zhu is anonymous or, rather, his branding is his face. The album sounds like the inverted image of the current trend for sunny tropical house, inverted being the key thing here, major keys and sunshine being replaced by minor keys and streetlights.
This is music that leans on aesthetics almost as much as vaporwave. Instead of post-capitalist internet junk, however, the aesthetic here is somewhere between Blade Runner and The Weeknd's House Of Balloons: druggy urban sex as seen through Instagram. Besides track names like 'Neon City' and 'One Minute To Midnight', this nocturnal mise en scène is achieved through touches like wailing police sirens, cop-movie guitar solos and muted trumpets. Aesthetics aside, his music fits into the current stateside trend for 'deep house'. This is very much house music as songs as opposed to tracks; the tracks generally feature vocals and fall under the five-minute-mark. In the mass of music that gets thrown into the category 'EDM', he follows in the chart successes of groups like Disclosure and Duke Dumont rather than the maximalist bass sound of Skrillex or the trance-pop of Avicii. Unlike many of these artists, Zhu includes what might be a surprising amount of 'live' instrumentation which generally add to the noir feeling (this is an album that begs to be described as 'noir') while aiming to include as many 'jazzy' touches as possible. This jazz influence, though, is best thought of as an atmosphere, saxophone solos and smoky bars more than lengthy improvisation and minor thirteenth chords.
The album is essentially a series of enjoyable yet unremarkable house-pop songs. It starts off at its strongest with 'In The Morning', 'Electrify Me' and 'Cold Blooded' which are essentially the best examples of the template stuck to for the rest of the album. Only one of the tracks on the album, 'Hometown Girl', is actively skip-worthy but a large amount of it can easily blur into an indistinguishable mass. The second half of the album generally flags a bit with so-so tracks like 'Money' and 'One Minute To Midnight' adding little to the experience. Almost every song features Zhu's distinctive falsetto which can be very effective but quickly becomes tiring. Possibly like Disclosure's Settle or SBTRKT's self-titled debut, a few carefully considered guest singers would have worked well.
The problem is, the aesthetic is laid on pretty heavy; it can be a little style over substance. The songs lack the kind of hooks that made his earlier work like 'Faded' or the Skrillex-collab 'Working for It' so great. What we are often left with is his immaculately rendered production and little else. Listened to through top-quality speakers on a late-night drive this album would be ideal; Zhu's wonderful deep basses and lovely clean synths are like sugar for the ear (and the body too). However, the album doesn't particularly reward close listening. The effect is like that of a medium-sized city that looks impressive lit up at night only to be returned to faceless office blocks in the cold light of day.
6Ed Ledsham's Score