While Night Beds achieved a remarkable change, it’s far from perfected one.
There might not be a more prodigious change of style from debut to sophomore album than what Night Beds has offered. Rather than develop or cultivate his project’s nascent sound, Colorado Springs-based Winston Yellen has executed a full genre-swap. With double-LP Ivywild, Yellen trades the alt-country, modern folk whimsy of 2013’s Country Sleep for electronic R&B. He’s essentially gone from being indebted to Ryan Adams to The Weeknd in the span of one album. Such daring change is commendable, but being appreciative of the muse-pursuing shift does not translate to the resultant product being a success in itself.
On first listen, the album hooks you with its deviation from expectations. Yellen has crafted a rich sonic tableau, with layers and layers of beats, synths and instrumentation crafting a nebulous nocturnal world. Yellen has described the tunes as “sad sex jams,” which is apt. The holdovers from his previous work are his stunning voice, defined by an incredible range that at times echoes Tim and Jeff Buckley, and the plaintive ambiance his compositions exude. Unfortunately, Auto-Tune is so rife and unnecessary, it serves to detract from his greatest instrument rather than enhance it.
The record starts out strong, the first handful of tracks are the finest. Opener “Finished” has a surreal, whirlpool sway, drifting along in a simulation of the tide rolling in. It lacks a semblance of song structure, with most of its six minutes meandering about in free form fashion before coalescing into a rhythm. Yellen’s chimeric crooning surfs on samples of crashing waves and classical violin, making for evocative imagery. Near the end, a vintage jazz singer emerges from the depths, adding to the dreamlike, anachronistic quality. It does go on too long, though, an omen of what comes to plague the work as a whole.
Second song “Corner” is a more traditional pop ballad, the percussion and twinkling treble notes making for a simple expression of yearning. Third entry, “Me, Liquor and God,” is the record’s clear highlight, the throbbing bass, crackling percussion, vivid melodic textures and Yellen’s falsetto fusing to create a poignant vibrancy. Its infectious chorus, consisting of Yellen chanting the title, is an earworm that wriggles about in your subconscious long after the record ends. The slowed down “Seratonin” is a sexy groove, Yellen’s voice floating in the ether above sparse piano notes, mid-tempo drums, and sultry saxophone. “Give me love/ In the darkness,” Yellen coos, exemplifying the album’s duality.
Just a few songs later, the album reveals itself to be too top-heavy. Around “Sway(ve),” the sixth cut, the songs take on a uniformity. While there is a lot going on in each track, they sound too similar, as if a blanket of one song is playing out with different movements. The motifs of the similarly minimalistic beats and repetitive vocalizations take on a hypnotic aspect, and not in a good way. The album isn’t even halfway over and it becomes a labor to get through. The songs are simply too redundant to warrant 16 of them, clocking in at a cumulative hour and five minutes.
What you’re left with is an experiment that is laudable for its risk-taking, but falls flat once you get beyond that. While Night Beds achieved a remarkable change, it’s far from perfected one.