No strangers to retro futurism, Zoot Woman have combined '70s soft rock and '80s synth pop with more contemporary and cutting-edge sounds since the Living in a Magazine days. It's an approach that may have reached its peak with 2009's aptly named Things Are What They Used to Be, an album equally indebted to New Romantic's swooning synths, electroclash's hard-edged beats, and chillwave's blasé pop. Five years on, Star Climbing makes it hard to tell whether the rest of the music scene has caught up with Zoot Woman, or vice-versa. Not only are there many more groups purveying similarly breezy, '80s-indebted electro-pop, but the band's points of reference sound more contemporary; any of Star Climbing's tracks would comfortably sit next to songs by Washed Out, Friendly Fires, or Tycho. "Don't Tear Yourself" apart sets the tone for the rest of Star Climbing with its airy-yet-urgent sound and encouraging lyrics, hinting at a kind of retro futurism in the album's themes. There's a not-unpleasant cognitive dissonance in songs like "Rock & Roll Symphony" as Johnny Blake sings "we'll leave our past behind" over decidedly retro analog synths, and often the album feels like a tug-of-war between optimism for the future and nostalgic reflection. Fittingly, Star Climbing channels Zoot Woman's penchant for New Romantic sounds into some of the band's most romantic moments, with "Nothing in the World" and "Coming Up for Air" evoking the rush of new love via fizzy '80s synth tones. While songs like "Lifeline" spend some time with love's moodier side, there's no denying Star Climbing is most engaging when Zoot Woman picks up the pace on "The Stars are Bright." At times, the album seems in danger of evaporating (particularly on the well-named instrumental "Elusive"), and it doesn't always match Things Are What They Used to Be's balance of style and substance. Nevertheless, the craft Zoot Woman bring to Star Climbing'a best moments continues to set them apart from the ever-growing number of similarly minded acts.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares