Album Reviews

Album Review: Yoko Zuna - Voyager (Loop)

Sam Smith

After building a reputation as one of the best live acts in New Zealand, instrumental hip-hop fusion group Yoko-Zuna are back with their second studio album Voyager, an album which sees them in full attack mode.

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Photo credit: Dalong Ye-Lee

The four-piece made up of Frank Eliesa, Swap Gomez, Kenji Holdaway, and JY Lee are known for their stellar live show and confident performance style, but how would that translate into the relative confines of a studio environment and subsequently a record?

Thankfully, the move from the stage to the studio was as smooth as could be with the band delivering their best set of songs yet aided by a cast of some of New Zealand’s best rap and R&B talent.

After a short prologue, the album kicks off with two pre-released singles in the form of the drum and bass sounding Chunky Monkey and Day Job, the latter features the most electrifying rap group in entertainment, SWIDT where the band was willing to take a back seat while the guys from Onehunga took centre stage.

Then comes Peace of Mind, a psychedelic rap fusion track featuring Raiza Biza and Bailey Wiley. A strong point of Yoko-Zuna projects is the featured artists and the band does have this uncanny knack of being able to get some stellar performances out of their guests. This was no exception on this track.

The first half of the album then ends with two instrumentals in the form of Television, a space funk track with its guitar flourishes, pounding bass, and crisp beats, and Voltron, a fast-paced electronic slugger complete with robotic vocals.

If the first half of the record was a like a spaceship in flight mode, things were not going to let up in the second half and the star power keeps coming... firstly with Ladi6 featuring on stirring psychedelic R&B number Find A Way, and then star rapper Melodownz taking the vocal reigns on Take Me To Your Leader.

Then comes the most ambitious track on the record and perhaps the most ambitious studio recording Yoko-Zuna have ever done in the form of a ten-minute epic titled The Lovecraft Mixtape featuring P-Money. This, in essence, captures the mood perfectly of the legendary jams these guys are known for on stage and translated it into a recorded context to very good effect without being too overbearing on the listener.

The album then begins to wind down with Energy featuring the double vocal attack of JessB and Bobandii, the spacey instrumental of Form which I would describe as 808 State meets the Chemical Brothers, before closing with Minority featuring Noah Slee and finally, the dance funk of January Sun.

In conclusion, with Voyager, Yoko-Zuna have delivered their best album, proving there is a lot more to this group than simply being a good live act. They have shown an ability as studio composers and arrangers, resulting in a collection of songs that are not just loose jams but structured songs that retain the intensity of their live performances.

As always, the features were a standout. They get the right people to appear, while their ability to construct arrangements that suit the various guests makes for a highly cohesive record. Maybe one day they could have a great side career as arrangers?

All up, with this record, Yoko-Zuna have cemented themselves as New Zealand’s best instrumental group today and probably ensured their next run of shows will be packed to the rafters. The listening experience of Voyager, in many respects,  is a bit of a voyage as Yoko-Zuna lift off with an electrifying and intense record that is befitting of this excellent band.

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Voyager album release tour

Friday 16 November - San Fran, Wellington
Friday 30 November - Raynham Park, 145 Karangahape Road, Auckland

Tickets on sale Friday 26 October via Eventfinda
Auckland tickets
Wellington tickets


Click here to stream or buy
Released: 16 Nov 2018

Written By: Sam Smith When he is not writing for Radio 13 Sam works in media and journalism at 95bFM radio and the University of Auckland. He also has is own personal music blog Nowhere Bros.