Monday, May 14, 2018
Night Beds - Dear Jewell, EP (2018)
After the release of their sophomore album Ivywild, Night Beds, the project of Colorado born Nashville based singer/songwriter Winston Yellen went into a sort of silent, working hibernation. Between the release of debut full length record Country Sleep and Ivywild, Yellen had essentially decided to trim the fat and embarked upon a new music journey with only his younger brother Abe in tow. Styling himself after producers like his longtime favorites Kanye West, Flying Lotus, and J Dilla, Yellen's music became less obviously folk oriented and way more inspired by R&B and hip hop. It was a move that confused longtime fans but one that was smoothed over by the fact that Yellen's voice - highly emotive and rooted in narrative sincerity, is incredibly versatile. When I was finally able to catch Night Beds live at CMJ 2015, it was an entirely different beast than I expected. Live instruments like guitar, drums, and bass swapped out in favor of sample pads and the like. Tracking Winston Yellen down after the performance, he noted a few of our exchanges on the Internet about Night Beds' new sound (mainly my hesitant acceptance of it) and hinted at a possible return of some of those other elements.
With the release of their latest EP Dear Jewell,, Night Beds are back and Winston Yellen has more love to give. The lead up to the EP has been defined by Yellen embracing the ephemeral nature of things. Nothing Yellen posts to social media is permanent - deleting much of the band's social media posts in favor of vague promotion. Any explanatory information Yellen provides gets wiped swiftly after it's posted when Yellen thinks enough eyes have seen it. And yet, the confessional nature remains on Dear Jewell,. In a now deleted post Yellen proclaimed that he had fallen in love with his manager and wrote some songs about it.
While Night Beds has always been defined by a pervasive melancholy, Yellen's blurred the lines between the intimately personal and what is narratively so. Yellen finds a kernel of emotionally resonant truth and builds and intricate tale around it. Dear Jewell, doubles down on the electronic, experimental R&B of Ivywild while leveling up the production. "Jade", the first track on the EP is a sumptuous groove filed with fragmented and obscured lovelorn lyrics. "Tell me what it's gonna take? You know that I love you" is Yellen's first line and the rest of the song twists itself back and forth between pining and the assumption that the feelings are obvious with actually vocalizing them. "Jade" is a surprisingly dance-y track for how much it wrestles with itself narratively. Lyrics are submerged in seas of reverb only to click into sharp focus at unexpected times like "All I do is party running from this heartache" in the song's outro.
The inclusion of a cover of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" is curious if only for the rare moment of sparsity: Yellen's back to playing guitar. But the production is anything but obvious - dropping a full band in and out at specific times and throwing effects on Yellen's moment at unexpected times.
"Velvet River", a co-production with Seattle based artist Lofty Stills, leans more heavily into their experimental tendencies than "Jade" as the lyrics are spouted, warped, and shifted to lead to the subsequent thought - the use of old movie samples and string flourishes is a move right out of Lofty Stills' playbook but it's no less effecting as it's used to highlight Yellen's impeccable vocals. Yellen is softer here, vocals unaffected amid lush arrangements and harmonies. It's a dip back into the dream pop well Night Beds originally pulled from and "Velvet River" as well as instrumental interlude "In The Shadow of the Shade) is a testament to the fact that Yellen is perfectly capable in that arena but the challenge of Ivywild and the more electronic-tinged songs are more compelling to him and Abe.
"Ever-After" is the continuation of Winston and Abe's collaboration with Lofty Stills' Luke Culbertson. "(Pt.1)" is a stellarly arranged waltz. It's a moment of brightness in an otherwise raging storm of complicated emotional tumult. It's the inverse of "Jade" in that while similarly upbeat, its lyrics are much more hopeful. Where "Jade" pushed and pulled with heartache, "Ever-After (Pt. 1)" seems to find the positive in sense of love. "If I found another, I could love her like no other man, someday" Yellen sweetly coos. It looks toward the future but the rest of the song is firmly situated on this particular person: "If I shut you up, fill my mind, trying to find - a thousand lights point to you/what's a man to do?"
"Ever-After (Pt. 2)" follows its saccharine counterpart with a bit of a reality check. The production snaps back towards the more obviously electronic and R&B elements as Yellen sings of heartache once more. Like "Jade" Yellen's lyrics are splinter and dive into pools of reverb but their main points resonate - where "Ever-After (Pt.1)" asked "If you love me, what could I need ever after", "Ever-After (Pt. 2)" offers that just love is not enough. The love contained with Dear Jewell, is a struggle. It's messy and a hell of a lot of work.
Dear Jewell, is a more clearly focused effort than Ivywild that balances Night Beds' musical adventurousness with a cast of skilled collaborators and balances their skills with those of Night Beds. It's also a collection of songs that highlights all of Night Beds strengths. The production has tightened up, segues are smoother and each song is composed of incredibly winsome moments. Yellen's songwriting remains as effecting as it always has but the more polished production actively works to enhance it. Where Ivywild was the direct result of Winston and Abe's desire to switch up the Night Beds formula, time and experience has provided them with a defter hand at self-production and more confident presentation of ideas. Where Ivywild recalled a hip hop mixtape, Dear Jewell, seems like a more cohesive collection despite the stylistic shifts contained within. It's subtle when it needs to be subtle, bold when it needs to be bold, and as always bolstered by Winston Yellen's absolutely distinct voice.
Night Beds' Dear Jewell, EP is out now.