Multi-instrumentalist, singer, and composer, Yvette Young, is hardly an unfamiliar face in the musical landscape. Though a single contributor within the three person band, Covet, Young has enabled her individual identity to shine through over the years, thanks to the conjunction of her active social connection with the public and a lively interest in art forms that go beyond that of her designated group guitarist duties.
Looking at only the first few days of 2019 in the rearview mirror, Young wasted no time putting forth a piece of work all her own, following Covet’s most recent summer 2018 release, effloresce (independent, 2018).Though not the first of Young’s solo music pursuits, the EP, simply titled, piano(independent, 2019), is not only a pleasant re-visitation of Young’s individual creativity butlike the straightforward title indicates, also a puts refreshing spotlight on her piano performance skills in a way much more focused than done previously. A brief collection of five tracks totaling just over 24 minutes, while the extended play initially seems an obvious show of minimalism – both instrumentally and chronologically – piano doesn’t slack off in its show of substance from either a technical or emotional vantage point.
The slim approach toward instrumental and sonic density across the tracks allows for more aural negative space. The result in some cases, like throughout the gently, melodically rippling, “reverie,” is that even with the inclusion of the low register cello against Young’s violin and piano, all three instruments have lots of room to breathe. Sounds with shorter decay times (time it generally takes for a sound to naturally fade), like the higher pitched piano parts, can be more clearly heard. Meanwhile, parts with longer decay like the cello, aren’t competing with a similarly pitched instrument, thus all parts involved ending up a muddy-sounding mess. Young supplies plenty of musical texture but none of it is fighting or stepping on itself.
Then, past the fundamental structure of piano’s building blocks (The full instrumental party is comprised of piano, violin, cello, and drums on closing track, “Jolt.”), there’s the matter of how effortlessly and vividly Young conveys the intended subject or event associated with each piece. She states straightforwardly in a brief bit of Bandcamp liner notes,“Each song is about a person, experience, or a place that touched me in some way. I hope these songs can take you some place.” Suddenly, the more open and clarity-focused nature of the music is like one half of a perfectly matching conceptual set, as the songs manage to do just what this mission statement-esque aspiration hopes they will. Not to mention, piano’s imagined journeys are so well imparted due in no small part to not just the kind of instruments played or their audible presence on a song but perhaps most noticeably, how parts communicate via changing tempos, style of play, and the melodic and harmonic shapes made though the relationships of some notes to others.
If much of this sounds very universal, that mostly because it is. Instrument, arrangement, and the literal choice of notes, are probably the three most basic aspects of songwriting people face, beginning from the very moment they decide to write a song in the first place. So why are these aspects worthy of extra appreciation on piano? It’s the sheer lack of unnecessary complication and strong intentional through line that makes this EP so worthy of applause. “Yearn,” for example, contains lots of perfect intervals within the piano part that steers the main melody. The way the sonic distance between the notes that make up those intervals can create both feelings of stability and of optimistic yearning as the title suggests (due to the sense of audible openness, thus creating a mild sense of lingering vulnerability), is a set of feelings that’s at once easy to grab onto but, isn’t placed within a larger musical context that’s made to be plain or boring.
Well before the midway point of “yearn,” nearly seven minute opener, “captain” demonstrates a profoundly kinetic dynamic even more illustrative than the former song, thanks to a decidedly robust display of Young’s performative dexterity – a skill established and appreciated for those who have heard Covet’s note-dense, chord-fickle, math rock-style compositions. Though not playing a guitar here, the nimbly unfurled streams of notes Young wrote for herself in this first piece showcases that same type of precision-reliant ability as when playing finger-style on her guitar. Add to that, the subtler but-no-less-affecting aspects of shaping music like: note accentuation, shifting tempo, jagged syncopation, and simultaneous but contrasting octaves on the piano and, Young takes the outline created from a founding choice of notes and brings it to detailed life with a shrewd execution and enhancement that is unique to her. The especially weighted and pointed delivery of frenetic, pseudo-cyclical, note patterns around 2:20 are played with an intensity not fixated on sheer loudness but more so an assertiveness displayed with decisive physical force. Through each note’s aggressive pronunciation, it becomes feasible to envision a leader who forced to think with just as much decisive confidence, even amidst a flurry of external or internal things happening in that very same set of crucial moments. That’s when piano jumps far away from its modestly perceived surface of basic metaphors and the things, people, or events Young wants to share become not just comprehensible but mentally and emotionally appreciable in deeply captivating way.
The basics of songwriting are often dumped at the bottom rung on the ladder of priorities in the face of so many auxiliary matters flooding the music business of today: social standing, plugging into audience trends, saying or doing any number of things just in the name of getting a leg up on anyone else around. Yet logistically, while these things matter in the pursuit of earning a living, they don’t actually affect whatever music it is someone writes and subsequently decides to share with the world. In this way, seeing that piano does what it sets out to do and, does so with the level of musicianship and emotive flair for which Young has long made herself known, this New Year’s Day EP really deserves praise because it reminds the music world at large that there’s much more to the relationship between simplicity and complexity. Simple connections don’t always have to be drawn in a simple way and complex emotional experiences don’t always have to be placed behind a deliberately gnarly musical facade to convey the depth of their impact. Yvette Young took everyone back to basics on New Year’s Day and she did it with some impressive musical finesse.
piano EP is available now on Bandcamp.
Physical releases on CD and vinyl coming soon.
piano was recorded at VuDu Studios by Mike Watts and Frank Mitaritonna.
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