- FinishedCornerMe Liquor and GodSeratoninTide TeethSway(ve)[9_6] slack-jawEve A.On High:MelroseLay Your HandsAll In Good Time (I Get You Wrong Interlude)Moon SugarLove StreamsI Give ItStand On My Throat
Night Beds, the musical project of 26-year-old Colorado Springs native Winston Yellen, received much acclaim for his 2013 debut album, Country Sleep, scoring plaudits for its tortured take on alt country and Yellen's soaring vocals. But Yellen has always been much more than another singer-songwriter. "When Country Sleep came out, I had never made songs like that before," explains Yellen, who currently splits his time between Nashville and Los Angeles. "That was a departure for me. That wasn't my bread and butter." The charismatic, enticingly unhinged Yellen had been living in a house that used to belong to Johnny Cash and the atmosphere had taken an effect, but after finishing that album and before Country Sleep was even released, Yellen began experimenting with the kind of melancholic, neon-tinged R&B that makes up the mesmerising Ivywild.
However, it is not all change. The thread that weaves through all of Yellen's music and holds it together is his unmistakable voice – plaintive, yearning, soulful, heartbreaking. Whether it's ascending over the luscious epic-electronics of "Tide Teeth" or aching alone on Country Sleep's opener "Faithful Heights", Yellen's voice has a unique beauty matched by few of his contemporaries. It is a voice that reveals the qualities of a life spent listening to the greats of jazz and soul and yet sounds so utterly of this moment. The move from the debut to this astounding second album, in this context, is totally natural and indicative of the talents and strength of Night Beds – an ability to turn his craft towards any sound and make it his own.
The second Night Beds album draws on Yellen's original love of Bill Evans through to J Dilla and is made up of what Yellen calls "sad sex jams" and was inspired by a long-term love and a break-up which looms large throughout the albums veiled lyrics. Its genesis can be found in the stoned night in Nashville when Yellen first heard Yeezus. Lying on the floor, Yellen blared the album at top volume. "All the emotions that I had kept inside came flooding out. Being a white nerdy kid from Colorado Springs, I was attracted to that sound. I was tired of being a sad sack like Elliott Smith or Ryan Adams. I wanted to be physical. I wanted to make music that was physical." Like many young Americans, he's had his fair share of battles with dependence and while touring Country Sleep he and his backing band came close to falling apart; these days, though, he doesn't dabble with anything harder than white wine and weed.
Ivywild is a truly collaborative effort with a makeshift team of 25 musicians, notably Abe, Yellen's younger brother and closest friend – his credit on the album comes above Winston's own, so much value does he place upon the work Abe put in. Additional vocals come from Heather Hibbard, a singer from Maine who features on over half of the 16 track album, and was contacted by the gregarious Yellen through YouTube, after he found a video of her covering one of his songs. She came out to the studio the very next day. "I wanted ordinary people that could do extraordinary things," he explains of the extended Ivywild contributors list. Setting himself up as curator as well as creator, the record shows off Yellen's natural flair for plucking people out of obscurity and bringing their talents to the table.
The album's content isn't quite as joyful as the recording may have been. "This record's a love letter – a debauched, fucked up love letter," explains Yellen. "It was a dark record to make. I was really excessive with abuse." He calls his destructive streak "self-wreckage", a trait he hypnotically pulls apart on sweeping album opener "Finished". "It was like a drug trip – it was a stupor," he says of the recording process. "I feel like I'm still waiting to wake up – this sounds pretentious, but it was like method acting – I would go to the studio every day in another place."
Yellen had to pick up the processes from scratch - "I knew I wanted to do it, it was just figuring out how" says Yellen of crafting this new direction. "I didn't know how to use drum machines, I didn't know how to make beats, I didn't know what a sampler was." Learning from friends, the complex patchwork of Ivywild soon began to take shape. In Colorado, Yellen and his collaborators found themselves in the studio of Thomas Dawson, former bass player with The Commodores. There they worked in front of a giant old movie theatre set-up, watching their favorite films muted on repeat as they laid down tracks. The work of Lars von Trier, Harmony Korine and John Cassavetes fed into the record's rich frame of references, with Yellen simultaneously attempting to work his way through the entire classic film canon.
Finessing the poignant assortment of songs was a sometimes painful task, but dedicated to the core, Yellen never wavered from the task at hand, despite some moments of true intensity. "I felt at some points we were losing our minds," he says. Initial versions of "Me Liquor and God" band "On High:" were 17 and 33 minutes respectively while "Finished" took four months to record. His editing process though was simple: "If it makes you cry, keep it in." Field recordings also flood the record, offering it a deep textural grain. "It is a luxury record, but it has a worn shirt feel," explains Yellen. "It's lived in. It's like a quilt – but it took forever, cutting up all the vocals and letting it breathe."
(DOC085 released: 08/07/15)