‘GENERATIONWHY’ by ZHU Album Review: California Producer Expands His Stylistic Range In A Strong Debut Record
California-based producer Steven Zhu may have made a smashing appearance on the house music scene about two years ago with his staple EDM hit “Faded,” but it only now that he makes his official studio album debut. GENERATIONWHY, the long-awaited full length EP, is full of jazzy surprises and satisfying mid-tempo tropical tunes that are instant summer hits.
To say that Zhu’s style verges on tropical house would both apt and somewhat inaccurate. His music carries the identifiers of the popular vocal electro-pop style that we mostly associate with the likes of Kygo, but with undeniably darker and nocturnal undertones. Tracks like opener “Neon City” and “One Minute Before Midnight” allude to this aesthetic quality of the music, and this is what makes Zhu a memorable name in deep house.
Nevertheless, there’s room for surprises. The opening intro features a jazzy trumpet which seems to hover over the night urban landscape of GENERATIONWHY. This leads us straight into the mid-tempo “Cold Blooded,” which opens with deep house piano tune superimposed over a trumpet. The jazz atmosphere carries through with solos throughout the album like the one on “Money” without becoming distracting. Falsetto vocals and bouncy bass line that are characteristic of the Zhu sound are also at play here. The amount of live instrumentation present on the album is also remarkable. Take “Palm of My Hand,” for example, where a stunning guitar solo leads the tracks or “Secret Weapon” and “Numb” which rely on a blend of piano and guitar as the base tune.
The first half of the album truly builds on the sound that fans are already familiar with. The first single off the album “In The Morning” evokes the hit that made Zhu popular to wider audiences – “Faded” – and has already become a club classic. But apart from recreating a successful formula, Zhu also tries to expand his musical style and experiment with arrangements and instrumentation.
In the second half of the record, the slower, more seductive tracks “Good Life” and “Reaching” fail to deliver anything truly exciting or original. The album just moves towards its close and with the exception of “One Minute to Midnight” and “Hometown Girl” becomes rather monotonous. The latter track strikes with a bittersweet melody and melancholy musings. Finally, Zhu’s debut album concludes with the smashing collaboration with Skrillex and THEY “Working For It.”
GENERATIONWHY is a strong debut for the young producer. The album is a coherent execution of Zhu’s stylistic idea for a nocturnal deep house. Like any album, it has some weaker spots, but the debut record shows a creative mindset geared towards pushing the boundaries of genre.