[sic] Magazine

Night Beds – Ivywild

It turns out Winston Yellen only made country music out of necessity rather than by vocation. His 2013 debut, Country Sleep, sounded authentic all the same, the product of a man recently job- and girlfriendless and self-exiled in a house in the woods previously owned by no less than Johnny Cash and June Carter. “When Country Sleep came out, I had never made songs like that before,” Yellen explained in a recent interview. Yet, go back to that record and listen to the surprising “Wanted You In August” and Ivywild’s melancholy neo-R&B was there all along. Hidden in plain sight was Yellen’s inner Bon Iver and now he’s out of the box he’s running wild.

Yellen’s always been about breaking hearts however. Country Sleep did it in a vulnerable, dangerously sad and Ryan Adams kind of way, Yellen’s fragile vocal doing the lion’s share of the emotional heavy-lifting. Ivywild, on the other hand, on which Yellen again finds himself single, places him somewhere between Heartbreaker and heartbroken. This perhaps shouldn’t a surprise as Yellen himself calls it a collection of “sad sex jams”. He could equally have said “sad sax jams” for the instrument’s smoky parps are everywhere, rubbing shoulders with super smooth Michael Jackson impressions and Autotune treatment that pitches and swerves Yellen around the mix.

That vocal, roughed up and quivering with technology at times, is still his best weapon and it ties his new project together just as it did his last. Though the two are musically distinct at a glance, Ivywild’s hour-long running order is nevertheless filled out with several tracks that straddle the divide – fuller numbers such as the lush “Corner” and the devastating “Stand On My Throat” on which the only beat is provided by a steady bass drum. And it’s clear from the crying highs of a track like “Lay Your Hands” that Yellen still delivers raw emotion better than most.

That said, the strong melodies of Yellen’s glossy HD glitch-pop will take some getting used to for those who found salvation in Country Sleep. Give it time though and the initial shock gives way to deftly layered vocal crescendos, woozy hip-hop, sleepy jazz-lite beats and, on “Eve A”, an almost trap-like bass rumble. Yellen doesn’t often let his distractions dominate, but decent as most of Ivywild is it seems also to act as a full system download of his excitement for his new toys. While this means it’s a joyously unpredictable album, many tracks ending completely differently from how they start, some of it just seems a bit unnecessary, and a number of tracks would probably benefit from being a little shorter.

Simply fitting in Yellen’s 25-strong cast of contributors stretches Ivywild out of proportion, although the additional vocals from Heather Hibbard, a singer that Yellen plucked from obscurity via YouTube, makes for an interesting counterpoint. “I wanted ordinary people that could do extraordinary things,” he explained. In his attempts to elevate his new direction to the extraordinary Yellen has perhaps thrown too much at the mix. Still using cut-and paste piano loops, the intro-like opener “Finished”, for example, also uses romantic strings against intangible synths, cinematic beatless R&B and sultry male-female duet work. It’s a lot to take in. When it does all come together though these “sad sex jams” climax quite spectacularly. You’ve just got to have the stamina to see Ivywild through to get to them.

Best track: “Stand On My Throat”

~Ivywild is released August 7th 2015 via Dead Oceans.~

[sic] review: Night Beds – Country Sleep