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Posted on August 5th, 2015 (10:00 am) by Matt LaBarbera

The central and perhaps cruelest irony of the city is the fierce isolation it engenders. The extreme density of people and lives and emotion all become compacted into a singular notion: the foreign body. The city is anonymizing, instilling in each of its citizens a simple survival mechanism in erasure, in brushing past anything that cannot be instantly folded into the self. While true of pretty much any romantic film—comedic or otherwise—the serendipitous encounter takes on an even greater significance in the urban context, moving from a meet-cute “what are the chances?” to a near impossibility. It’s just as easy to be sad and lonely deep within the steel and cement heart of the city as some far-flung bucolic hermitage. That move, rural to urban, seems to be embodied in the newest release from Night Beds, Ivywild. From the country-folk pining of 2013’s Country Sleep, Winston Yellen and Co. take a trip to the metropole, transplanting the same torments into the slick asphalt of contemporary R&B.

The cover of Country Sleep features a man shrouded in darkness, leaning his head against an upright arm. Far from repose, it’s the figure of contemplation at its most mild and anguish at its least. Ivywild’s is a little more baroque, a take on Take Care, curiously decadent and painfully empty. Fulfillment, satisfaction, stability all conspicuously absent, but what else is to be expected of the man who pens “Me Liquor and God?” He draws on the same interiority as he did before, but manifests it a new context, namely that of the “sad sex jam,” a term Yellen uses to describe the approach here. Unfortunately, only one of those is accurate across the sixteen-track bloat of Ivywild.

There’s no mistaking it: Yellen has the Voice. Even when treated post-recording, his vocals are smooth for the hooks and frayed raw when he needs to inject some authenticity. It’s difficult not to make comparisons to contemporary crooner The Weeknd, in terms of range and tenor. Slow-jam “Serotonin” is largely silky cooing over a tepid, chatter-filled lounge beat. Even when he’s spouting self-pity such as on the aforementioned “Me Liquor and God,” there is a palpable weight to his voice that more often than not makes up for the wallowing—although, he’s probably just acting the popular trope of the past five years: the sensitive and hyper-aware R&B male lead.

However, Yellen’s biggest failure here is in the production, whether it goes too rococo with straining strings or too maximal on the hook. For example, “Lay Your Hands” initially rises out of some urban, come-down haze with swirling atmospherics and softly puffing sax, but all sense of cool and restraint is lost on his “Lay me where you found me.” It’s a common misstep in production: big sounds do not always equal big emotions. Elsewhere, the instrumentals just feel sloppily slung-together. The mix on “I Give It” is overcrowded at its best moment halfway through when a chugging disco groove peeks its head.

Probably he’s most egregious work is “Eve A.” From the braggadocio lyrics that he can’t pull off to the hesitant delivery of the hook—“A-E-I-Fuck-U”—it’s hard to imagine anyone in the room being comfortable while he was recording this. Once again, the mix is far too cluttered, especially near the close, and that’s a shame because it’s actually good. His methodology of bloat does a huge disservice to not only his voice, but the actually decent elements of his production are reduced to a murky, indistinct sonic slurry.

Ivywild is not a complete wash, though. When Yellen reins in his production and keeps his vocals from blooming into self-indulgence, he accomplishes a decent R&B cut. “Tide Teeth” moves slowly through a desolate landscape and it’s the unity of concept and execution that produce something worthwhile. Its density is not a buckling corpulence but a clarity of expression. If only the rest of Ivywild were so clear in concept.

Yellen is a pretty young guy, but he’s got a lot of emotions he wants to tell you about. He’s packed minutes of anguish into every second of his life and here it bursts forth in a profusion of wild ivy. However, Ivywild may not be the best conveyance of all of the tiny torments and even more infinitesimal victories. Yellen has the cords to tackle R&B, but it’s clear he lacks the sensibility to make something meaningful out of it. Even with his voice, there’s little emotional resonance as the bloated production erases the trace of each element, reenacting the same trick of facelessness and isolation that the urban environment he struggles in so perfectly performs. It’s telling when the best moment of your album takes place in the first song; even more so when you didn’t even write it.

Track List:

  1. Finished
  2. Corner
  3. Me Liquor and God
  4. Seratonin
  5. Tide Teeth
  6. Sway(ve)
  7. [9-6] slack-jaw
  8. Eve A
  9. On High:
  10. Melrose
  11. Lay Your Hands
  12. All in Good Time (I Get You Wrong Interlude)
  13. Moon Sugar
  14. Love Streams
  15. I Give It
  16. Stand on My Throat
Night Beds - Ivywild Review
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

57 / 100
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