It’s impressive how yeule, real name Nat Ćmiel, has become one of the boldest voices in hyperpop given the genre’s boundary-breaking standard. Their 2022 album ‘Glitch Princess’ garnered critical acclaim as they documented their growing derealisation, body dysmorphia and drug use. It was a somewhat uneven record, oscillating between soft emo-pop standouts like ‘Don’t Be So Hard On Your Beauty’ and ending on a surprising four-hour ambient track; clearly not for the weak of heart. On ‘soft scars’, yeule trades hits and misses for refined, focussed swings in a project that confronts their humanity in beautifully unexpected ways.
The traumatic overdose and death of a close friend diffuses through the entire record, and it has clearly changed yeule in ways both philosophical and artistic. That’s evident in the opening track ‘x w x’, which lures you in with its music box intro then explodes into a chorus of raging shoegaze guitars. Yeule’s typically soft, breathy voice descends into tormented screaming as they admit defeat: “Soft scars on my skin/Silicone, porcelain/I’m not one of them/Love you ‘till the end”.
Yeule continues to experiment with ’90s-inspired guitar tones through the lens of their posthuman identity, avoiding straightforward nostalgic revivalism. There’s the sludgy guitar tones cutting across yeule’s fragmented AutoTune on ‘dazies’, whilst the Pixies-inflected fuzz on ‘software update’ complements their equally unstable mind. Perhaps the eeriest track is ‘ghosts’, whose gentle acoustic strums soundtrack yeule at a disturbing nadir in the record: “If you held a gun to my head/I’ll laugh instead.”
The most engaging performances they give on ‘soft scars’ are found in its most explicitly electronic tracks. ‘Inferno’, a bouncing slow burn with plucky, nocturnal synths, sees yeule pledge their undying love in hushed, intimate whispers. Album highlight and title track ‘softscars’ is pure synthpop recalling influences like M83 or Porter Robinson, as they chant the devastating process of dealing with grief: “I can’t love you like you love me babe, soft scars”.
The album doesn’t always stick the landing; the grandiose ‘cyber meat/vampy’ is undercut by a touching acoustic number whose entire title is based on a tacky Aphex Twin pun. Nevertheless, it’s an impressive step-up from an artist who was already operating miles ahead of their peers. ‘soft scars’ can be an emotionally excruciating experience, but it finds yeule connecting with their humanity in ways that seemed impossible just one year ago.
- Release date: September 22, 2023
- Record label: Ninja Tune