George van den Broek’s self-described “upbeat existential millennial crisis music” for album number two presents an immediate contradiction. Can dread really be soundtracked by the fun jazz and P-funk sounds he now plays with on ‘A Day In A Yellow Beat’? Of course it can. Van den Broek said in an accompanying statement that he’s trying out his own version of “ironic dance music”, that is “full of depressing truths about feeling distant from your friends or a sense that nothing is worth anything”.
At just shy of an hour and 20 minutes, and backed by an impressive guestlist of ‘70s and modern-day musicians (Shirley Jones, Nick Walters, Mac DeMarco, Bishop Nehru), ‘A Day In A Yellow Beat’ could superficially be regarded as Yellow Days’ magnum opus on millennial anxiety. Sonically, it carries some of that gravity. There’s sprawling jazz-funk wig-outs, gospel style sing-a-longs, warbling guitar solos and interludes of archive broadcasts sprouting snooty views on youth culture.
The album, recorded in LA instead of Yellow Days’ usual garden shed set-up in Hampshire, is a promising evolution from the musician’s woozy R&B beginnings, first heard on debut EP ‘Harmless Melodies (2017) and then debut album ‘Is Everything OK In Your World?’ (2018). And although the record sounds slick, its material becomes indistinct across the bloated runtime. A good edit – as well as inspired lyricism by Van den Broek – may well have altered the trajectory of this collection.
You get the impression, however, that van den Broek couldn’t care less about being succinct or overtly poetic. Opener ‘Intro’, the first of seven(!) interludes, features an old interview with a musician discussing the joys of creative freedom; there’s no record label demanding a hit from him, he says. Van den Broek extends the intro’s lounge music backdrop into ‘Be Free’, a slow-mo jazz funk ditty that champions unfettered expression over calculated art. “I won’t hide away/They don’t want you to say/What you want to say”, he asserts, before ushering in an outro jam of wah-wah riffs, shuffling beats and brass solos that mirror the liberty he espouses.
There are hints that a hit could be on the cards, though. ‘Who’s There’ (feat. Shirley Jones from ‘70s group The Jones Girls) is a strutting disco-flecked track about van den Broek’s feeling of disassociation: “It seems that all my friends are gone, babe/Well, who’s there?” The song’s funk bass licks, Jones’ soulful coos and jaunty, vintage synth melodies sure sounds like a party, but in his head things are gloomy.
Yellow Days’ ideas are less convincing elsewhere. On the upbeat ‘Open Your Eyes’, suddenly, he has all the (vague) solutions: “If you ever feel blue/Well, just know/I do it all for you”. ‘Let’s Be Good To One Another’ – musically indebted to the Wurlitzer wizardry of his hero Ray Charles – is by virtue of its title alone a mantra on practising good. Save for some truly trite lyrics (“If you’ve been a fool/Acting like a tool”) it has a catchy, timeless soul sound.
Mac DeMarco’s feature on the trippy ‘The Curse’ – a song about lifting yourself out of a funk – is about as paltry a contribution could be: the odd “woo” here, the half-assed “ahh” there. Bishop Nehru is smartly enlisted to spit fervent bars for the duration of ‘!’, but in comparison, DeMarco’s turn on ‘The Curse’ feels like a wasted opportunity.
A smattering of other tracks aside (including the lush groove of ‘Getting Closer’ and the funk-jazz fanfare of ‘Love Is Everywhere’), this collection doesn’t fully provide catharsis nor connection. An extended metaphor for the complexities of modern youth? Perhaps. But some better sifting, shaping and sharpening for next time might do the trick.
- Release date: September 18
- Record label: Sony Music