Words by Sam Legg
Release Date – 4th February 2013
Label – Dead Oceans
Rating – 9.5/10
What a record.
From the haunting a cappella opening line of first track ‘Faithful Heights’ “When the sorrow comes, and you don’t know why / Climb into my arms, I’ll hold you through the night”, we can deduce the purpose of this album: to be there, to be another; a constant companion. This sentiment is reiterated by its similarly reassuring closing line: “whenever you get lost, hold my hand”. As is a constant theme on the record, Night Beds, aka Winston Yellen, leads us, as if by hand, through a blustery, sometimes stark and desolate, sometimes luscious and playful landscape. In ‘Ramona’, Yellen jerks us back into a post-slumber reality (of sorts) and pulls us along, enticing and bewitching us; the repeated lyrical phrase “Come on Ramona…” is him similarly calling for us to catch up, leading us lyrically and musically.
‘Even if we Try’, the first single to be taken off the album, is in many ways an entity unto itself. Its harmonies and melodies fit perfectly, creating an elegiac masterpiece that soars and simmers below the surface, enchanting and tormenting us simultaneously; by this point the distinction between artist and listener is waning, you are akin to the tragedy you are witnessing. This all might sound a little glum, but, as is common throughout the record, Yellen juxtaposes this helplessness with a musical playfulness similar to that of Andrew Bird; a trait which doesn’t trivialise the preceding emotions, but acts as a relief, a counter-balance.
Whilst ‘Wanted You in August’ is a brooding yet airy number, which, being led by its piano melody and strong lyrical focus shows shades of Aqualung, Country Sleep as a whole has a similar, slightly voyeuristic tone to Perfume Genius’ ‘Put Your Back N 2 It’. The former, however, seems much more the result of a process of thought and exploration (see ‘Lost Springs’ in particular), rather than a snapshot of tragedy; where Mike Hadreas asks questions, Yellen seems to have found some acceptance and understanding.
Country Sleep might clock in at just over 30 mins, but it is so dense, so potentially affective, that time becomes irrelevant; it becomes a source of constancy. Yellen’s self-understanding charms and encourages us to reciprocate by taking from the record whatever we like: solace, affirmation, nothing at all. It is there and it is what it is. ‘22’ is a perfect example of a song which doesn’t need to impose itself on the listener, nor try to be anything it isn’t. There are no unnecessary extravagancies or pandering to genre-related expectations, just surprisingly self-assured songs which don’t mind if you listen to them or not. I cannot imagine listening to this record with anyone else; it’s an amazing, indulgent collusion between the listener, Yellen and the hidden melancholy within us all. And anyway, three’s a crowd.