Album review of 'Turning Down Water for Air' by James Yuill
I remember the advert very clearly because of the icy realisation in the message it was pushing. You may remember the one, teenager staring back into camera saying words to the effect of "Ok, so you dumped me, but I'm going to write a load of songs about how much of a loser you are on my computer using (Insert name of Windows operating system du jour) and become a star." High concept? simple, anyone can pick up a guitar, throw a few chords together and hey presto - you're a musician. You could even vaguely get how the idea had been pitched, probably at some fancy Wall Street ad agency, with an executive VP in a Sonia Rykiel suit explaining that it was the perfect illustration of how technology will one day emancipate everyone on the planet, being after all the truest form of democracy. Zeit-bloody-geist.
But of course it wouldn't mean that. In this case it would mean billions of MySpace pages with songs mainly about a) Getting chucked b) I chucked you first and/or c) How making me clean up my room is slavery. Thankfully this vision has yet to be fulfilled. But change has come. Laptop composition is no longer now the sole domain of geeky undergraduates trying to sound like the Aphex Twin. On the one hand there are dubsteppers like Burial, using the ominous dark spaces of their music to convey the oppressiveness of urban living, and on another there are guys like James Yuill.
Firstly, if laptop albums aren't your thing and you believe that any record with less than a full 32 piece orchestra is a crime against music, you may wish to dust off your copy of Bat Out Of Hell, because James Yuill's debut is so home studio it might as well be sponsored by Ikea. Don't let that put the rest of you off though, because rather than a series of bleeps and the odd lazy amen break, the twenty seven year old is thoroughly unashamed of mashing up his gently strummed guitar with the pumping synth arpeggios of early New Order.
It's not a unique formula, but as on single No Pins Allowed it's a combination which has the necessary craft and bounce to please fans in both the soloist/rhythmist camps. Over The Hills drifts towards the unrepentant chav pop of - whisper it quietly - Just Jack, sans the irritating cockney banta, whilst sometimes admittedly the experiment fails, as proven midway through She Said In Jest, where another seemingly benign folk tale is interrupted rudely by a few stabs of incongruous acid house. The show stealer though is Yuill's slight nod to lighter draining stadium rock; closer Somehow feels like it should be soundtracking a hugely poignant scene in the OC, the slightly twisted refrain of "I Know You Want Me To Hurt Myself" playing against an effervescent backdrop of bell-like chords which The Edge might manage if he wasn't so intent on bludgeoning his strings to death.
The quieter moments - such as opener You Always Do and in the baleful cello of How Could I Lose - are always going to draw comparisons with Nick Drake, but whether he may've approved or not (And you rather suspect he would) there's a welcome absence of hey nonny nonny and if Alison Goldfrapp can get away with it, then...