Hopelessly Devoted to Yuill
Dark parlor games, the sort that ask players to choose between two horrible options, are torture for some, and bizarrely delightful for others.
James Yuill's last name is pronounced "Yule", but he poses and answers a rather non-festive question in the title of his second album, Turning Down Water for Air, first released last year and re-released October 13th on London's Moshi Moshi Records.
Turning Down Water for Air is a jumble of emotions set to the synthesized beats of Yuill's lovestruck heart. He seems like a sensitive guy, with somewhat volatile emotions, heavily influenced by the state of his lovelife at any given moment. On "Left-Handed Girl" he refers to himself as a man and his love as a girl. Does this "she's a girl and I'm a man" language indicate a difference in maturity, and if so, who is more mature?
Some songs, like opener "You Always Do", are optimistic, gentle, and sweetly yearning. About halfway through, the tone of the songs takes a change. Each song doesn't have the same mood after that point; it's more like Yuill's been hit with a poison arrow through the heart, and goes through different stages as he reacts.
Before that, there's "Head Over Heels", which contains some lovely bits of writing, but seems unfinished, not quite fully realized (and it clocks in at only 2:04). It's a bit of a lost opportunity, both as a transitional song for the album, and as an individual song. Then there's "No Ghost", danceable and intensely reflective ("When will I see my children lying in my arms?...You stole emotion from a man who needs it most.") The gently expressive, vocals-packed "No Surprise" barely gives Yuill a chance to rest his voice, and his work pays off; the catchy tune is the best song on the album.
"She Said In Jest" ("I can't seem to catch my breath") and "Breathing In" are but two of the album's songs that mention breathing. Songs also mention water, and earth plays at least a minor role, as in "Over the Hills". I didn't notice any mention of fire, though. Maybe next time. Its potential destructiveness might hold some appeal. Dark thoughts are threaded throughout the album, culminating with "Somehow", the only song I flat-out dislike. It's not the lyrics that bother me ("I know you want me to hurt myself/I know you want me to hurt myself/Somehow, somehow"), it's the entire odd conception of the song, as a chirpy, clap-a-long camp song (and I heartily dislike the unpleasant backup vocals.)
However, the last song excepted, the album is a very strong, catchy collection of what one might call intelligent dance music, if one used such silly terminology.
Yuill is currently on a UK tour:
The breezy "This Sweet Love" was released October 6th as a 7" single with non-album "They're Chasing My Hands" on the flip-side. On "This Sweet Love", Yuill uses slower, relatively hushed vocals somewhat akin to those used by Jose González.
For the "This Sweet Love" video, director Alex Emslie, sought"people who want to show the world something they love." Sorry, grandmothers of the greater London area, while you might immediately come to Emslie's mind as "lovable", he also apparently views you as things.
His elaboration of "something you love" was as follows: "Be it your grandma, pet snake, souped up golf cart or just a special view from your bedroom window, we are looking for a wide range of people of all ages, creeds and colours to show us what helps them get through the day."
Sure enough, the video includes a dude with a golf cart. So much better than a grandma. The people in the video didn't get paid, but at least, for some reason, they got the fun of seeing what they look like with black bars across their eyes. Oooh, anonymized...
The videos for "No Surprise" and "No Pins Allowed", two more songs from Turning Down Water for Air don't contain golf carts or grandmas, but they're good songs.
"No Pins Allowed":
Those who join James Yuill's mailing list get a freebie MP3 of his excellent cover of the Radiohead song, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box".
Yuill is not only an accomplished singer-songwriter; he also makes some dandy remixes, and generously posts many of them at his blog. One I'm partial to is his A. Human "Pacey Singer" remix.
Here's an acoustic performance of the song:
Yuill's first album, The Vanilla Disc, which was released in 2005, is available from his online shop. His holiday album, It's Pronounced "Yule"!, has not yet been released, announced, or, possibly, recorded.