Young singer-songwriter’s debut hints at a bright and beautiful future.
James Skinner 2013-01-24
Winston Yellen is the brainchild behind Night Beds, a 23-year-old singer-songwriter blessed with a striking voice and inclination toward woozy, languorous songcraft. His presence marks Country Sleep as, if not one of the most electrifying debut albums you’ll hear this year, then certainly among the most promising.
It opens with Yellen’s voice front and centre on the a cappella Faithful Heights, a stirring assertion of love and companionship. It’s followed by the urgent rush of Ramona, a sprightly, sepia-drenched jaunt that cedes into a blissful, billowing coda.
Much of the record was born out of destructive circumstances, written by Yellen in an attempt to sedate himself from what was happening around him. He lost a job and a girlfriend, before spending a period living out of his car, eking out a living while on the road.
A Colorado native, he eventually found himself back in his adopted home of Nashville. In a stroke of (loan-assisted) good fortune, he was able to rent a pre-civil war home in the woods that counts among its former owners none other than Johnny Cash and June Carter.
There are analogies here, if you care to draw them, with how Justin Vernon came to put together Bon Iver’s heartrending For Emma, Forever Ago. What’s more, both singers are in possession of uncommonly gorgeous voices, not to mention a gift for space and for atmosphere – for knowing when to let a song breathe.
As on For Emma…, and its palette-expanding follow-up LP, many of Yellen’s compositions wind up in some dreamy, interstitial quarter that nevertheless feels utterly intuitive. Yet Country Sleep doesn’t land quite as fully-formed as Bon Iver’s debut managed.
Nor does this set display the consistency that stylistic peers such as Fleet Foxes or Bowerbirds routinely exhibit. Yellen’s lyrics occasionally slip into cliché, and for all their tasteful production and delicate charms, these songs can come off a little undistinguished at times.
Which, to come full-circle, brings us back to one thing Country Sleep holds in abundance: promise. It is dreamy and languid, warm and inviting in turn; a soulful work by a talented young singer-songwriter that hints at a bright and beautiful future.