Astralwerks has released ZHU’s third studio album, ‘DREAMLAND 2021’. While he recorded the album at home, lockdown didn’t prevent the GRAMMY-nominated artist from enlisting a vast cast of guests, including pristine pop singer Yuna, R&B experimentalist Tinashe, and sleek house producer Channel Tres, among others. With all these collaborators in tow, ‘DREAMLAND 2021’ feels like a manifestation of the communal feeling of the dancefloor, the warmth of a night dancing with your closest friends.
“You can’t generate the same kind of community and connection without other people,” says ZHU as he prepares to return to the stage with six sold-out DREAMROCKS shows at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, CO in May. “The lights, the music, the volume, the dancing. Electronic music is an experiential thing.”
His unprecedented run at Red Rocks is one of the first major multi-night stands to take place since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered live music venues around the world. ZHU will also be performing at numerous 2021 festivals, including ARC, III Points, and Outside Lands.
Highlights from ‘DREAMLAND 2021’ include ‘Distant Lights’, which builds toward reckless, ecstatic abandon. In the final moments, ZHU murmurs a few lines that serve as something of a mission statement for the LP: “I don’t believe that music, dancing, the freedom of expression will be suppressed for much longer. They can’t—that’s against human nature.” The tracks that follow build on this idea, in both the primal spirit of the instrumentals and the desperate yearning of the vocals, which come from ZHU and his collaborators.
On ‘Yours’ ft. Arctic Lake, ZHU’s pensive keyboards shift to a simmering rhythm as he trades vocals with the UK alt-pop artist Arctic Lake, evoking the uneasy tension between love in the moment and the aching for love everlasting. The elegant ‘Sky Is Crying’ ft. Yuna, which has amassed nearly 3.2 million combined global streams since its release in late March, won praise from Billboard, which observed, “Zhu has always been a vessel for the dark and surreal, and… ‘Sky Is Crying’ meets an age of hope and despair with somber groove.” His 2020 collaboration with Tinashe, ‘ONLY’, was hailed by Stereogum as a “dark electronic pop track built around reverberating keyboard arpeggios and an increasingly frenetic thump.” Dancing Astronaut said, “‘ONLY’ is a blend of ominous undertones with an alluring edge.”
“DREAMLAND 2021 is about looking forward and creating a version of the future we want to exist in,” ZHU explains.