The whimsical world of Zack Villere’s ‘Cardboard City’

Zack Villere’s Cardboard City. A whimsical set of tracks, candid and unpredictable. Each track sets off into their own world but finds a thematic place in this album. Zack Villere, whose lackadaisical baritone voice drones throughout the album provides glimpses into his guarded mind – glimpses of love, longing, and loss. He presents this in a way that’s innately quaint and melancholic, with its warped features eccentrically masking feelings that are personal and intimate. Moments like these are highlighted in “Sore Throat” which explores the complexity of love and the self-doubt that brews in such relationships; in “Tunnel” whose reflective lyrics highlight the uncertainty of a long-distance relationship; and the uninhibited thoughts that scatter “A Feeling” find underlying relationship anxiety. Through all the warped weirdness, Cardboard City is at its surface a collection of intimate songs and personal stories told in a series of snapshots.

With its lyrical brevity, the album urges a focus on his production, a style listeners often find elusive. Standing amongst peers like Dijon and Mulherin, it might seem easy to categorise Zack Villere along the lines of alternative/indie pop. Hints of electronic guitar, compressed piano, and synths are suggestive of this genre, with features from Dijon (“Rope Swing”) and J’von (“No Country”) making it stylistically defined. Still, when asked what his style is, he often resorts to explaining that he simply doesn’t know. In other words, he wants his music to transcend genre classification. Zack would love to “be known for what I do and not for my association,” he tells Ones To Watch. His lyrics rarely follow structural convention, and his songs often deviate into other worlds, like the way we remember memories, often arbitrary and idiosyncratic to one’s own perspective. It’s what makes us unique, and what makes Zack’s music his own.

When Zack first came to the music scene, his style was perhaps more defined. In 2015, he produced under the name Froyo Ma, whose music became characteristic of bedroom pop, familiar amongst SoundCloud artists. His vocal features were outsourced from R&B and soul, and his production highlighted jazzy melodies inflected with electronic instrumentalism. His most popular track “Spent Missing feat. Charlotte Day Wilson” is a prime example of this, capturing the very essence of Froyo Ma, which earned him a cult following. Pants, the 2015 EP from which the track was released, is the only record from Zack’s days as Froyo Ma.

Zack slowly transitioned out of the Froyo Ma era having grown tired of the name, and since moving to LA in 2017, Zack became an eponymous musician. “I just don’t want to be 40 and be ‘Froyo’,” he tells Dazed. His first record under his name built a world of his own, of fun little songs and cartoons, Tyler references, and personal growth. The EP’s biggest hit, “Cool”, became viral, and it was a song that allowed Zack to become his own version of ‘cool’. “I just want to continue to be a better me,” he tells Complex.

Cardboard City, then, finds Zack building a record that is unapologetically himself. It’s a record that’s unconcerned with genre definition, that doesn’t stick to rules. It’s why tracks like “Redline” are so endearing. You can hear the smile in Zack’s voice when he talks about how he met a girl through his friend and talked to her “once on Facebook”. The suppressed laugh he even makes in this line makes this album personable and fun to listen to. Cardboard City continues to be wonderfully unique in ways that his sound is marked by childhood aspirations and influences; sci-fi sound effects mark his childhood dream of being an astrophysicist, and his concluding track “Snoopy” which plays like a jazz improvisation hints at the jazz influence of a young Zack Villere who once played the saxophone. 

With Cardboard City, we can see Zack growing as an artist through a lens of the moments he’s experienced – ones that play out like short personal movies. Moments like wondering if someone feels the same way you do (“Superhero Strength”). Projecting insecurities onto others (“Projecting”). Losing strength at the sight of love (“Knockout”). The thrill of riding a rope swing for the first time (“Rope Swing”). Falling in love (the giggly type) with a girl he’s yet to meet (“Redline”). Cardboard City is Zack’s world. A world with the people he loves, and a world that’s unabashedly his.

Favourite Tracks: Sore Throat, Redline, Grateful, Haircut

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