Just two years after Night Beds' intimate indie folk debut, the somewhat descriptively titled Country Sleep, Winston Yellen takes an unexpectedly sharp turn in style and production on his sophomore album, Ivywild. With a couple dozen guest musicians and a big assist from his brother Abe Yellen in the studio, it's not outrageous to reference the previous year's LP1 by FKA Twigs in terms of far-reaching, exploratory production resulting in an artful and haunting alt-R&B/quasi-indie electronic record. Yellen's earthy falsetto keeps a toe in the Bon Iver realm here, as do a few of the tunes (such as the decidedly indie rock "Corner"), but the project as a whole is a liberal and audacious shift.
Country Sleep, Night Beds’ 2013, made one thing clear: Winston Yellen has been hurt. Even more than that, it showed that Yellen, the primary songwriter behind the Night Beds name, is better than most at channeling hurt into song. In an age where white male singer/songwriter types are five to a dime, Yellen is a true rarity: a singer with both an astounding voice and a unique style.
It’s hard being Winston Yellen, the man behind Night Beds. A brokenhearted drifter drunk on whiskey and jaded beyond his years — that was the heavy, tired trope that the Colorado Springs native managed to make fresh on 2013’s Country Sleep, thanks to the heartrending earnestness of his lyrics and the angelic quality of his falsetto. Country Sleep was a folk record, or maybe alt country; attempts at categorization canceled themselves out somewhere around the second track, when it started to dawn on the listener that Yellen could probably make a child’s toy xylophone sing.
Of all the people who have burned the midnight oil—and several joints—listening to Yeezus, Colorado native Winston Yellen (alias Night Beds) is possibly the most remarkable. The seeds of his visceral second record, Ivywild, were reportedly sown when he was stoned in the early hours poring over Kanye. However, the album will inevitably invite comparisons to The Weeknd’s raw and emotional brand of R&B and not West’s Hip Hop opus.
Night BedsIvywild(Dead Oceans)3 ½ out of 5 stars Fans of Winston Yellen’s (aka Night Beds) 2013 debut know his trembling, yearning tenor voice and fragile, wistful songwriting that included heavy use of strings and the barest of instrumentation was a unique entry into the crowded indie singer/songwriter field. This was tender, gorgeous music that gently nudged its boundaries. The Nashville by way of Colorado Springs artist takes those concepts and thrusts into brave new territory on this audacious follow-up.
Two years ago Winston Yeller released Country Sleep, ten tracks of wide-eyed Americana that owed a not totally insignificant debt to Ryan Adams. It was the record that introduced Night Beds to the world, and really, it did its task fairly well. Well enough that it landed Yellen a late night TV appearance or two. Well enough that there were tours with the likes of Lord Huron, another musical project that frames bleeding-heart subject matter within a musical context that hints at Bud Light and interstates and Middle America’s infinite vistas.
Don't let that score up there fool you—Ivywild is a must-listen, invigorating in the ways albums can be when they're so daring you can hardly believe what you're hearing. Really, when was the last time you encountered a record that took legitimate, potentially career-altering risks? Most of the time, an artist's "bold new direction" manifests in well-placed interview quotes and imperceptible effects on their actual music. Or, "challenging art" will come from outsiders of whom such abrasiveness is expected.
Behold: seven of the best slightly-under-the-radar albums released this week, from the eclectic record collection of The Horrors’ Tom Furse to the blissed-out reinvention of Colorado Springs singer-songwriter Night Beds..