Saying someone has ‘the voice of an angel’ is bandied about so much in the media these days, almost to the point of cliche.
At moments like this, it can be almost guaranteed that certain facets of the general populace will roll their eyes, or sit rocking for a beat or two, holding their heads in their hands and wondering – with a hint of rose tinted nostalgia – where did a bit of good, honest, decent heart and soul go? Why does everything sound so damn average these days? And what the hell does the voice of an angel actually sound like anyway?
Can the answer be found within the vocals of 23-year-old Winston Yellen, by chance, of alt country ‘project’ Night Beds?
Roll these thoughts around your head for a while as you listen to ‘Even If We Try‘, the A-side to a new 7″ available on Dead Ocean, then ask yourself if such notions are really worth the folly of consideration.
After all, when listening to ‘Even If We Try’, if nothing angelic can be attributed, it should become clear, even to the most hardened of critics, that there is something magical and special about this record.
Hope springs eternal from the wintery loneliness, anxiety, despair and yearning that clings to the branches of this song, driven by Yellen’s clear as a mountain stream, otherworldly vocal, which soars harmonically and is festooned with equal power, grace and frailty to that of Antony Hegarty. These assured and luscious pipes express a subtle selection of emotions that crawl warmly to the core abroad a complementary festival of piano and sparse string arrangements hovering spectrally about the vocals like smoke plumes twirling elegantly in the darkest of woodland hollows, seeking out the briefest of canopy branch cracks that’ll let through the sunlight.
In the last throws of the song, Yellen breaks the tune with a wordless vocal closure, backed up by guitars, hand claps, smidgens of percussion, and a cocksure beyond mid tempo drum beat that ushers the soaring, euphoric vocals to the end – creating a similar aural effect and intensity to the horrifically beautiful voice in Pink Floyd‘s ‘Great Gig In The Sky‘.
Watch a live take of the song, recorded acoustically in an empty church – the perfect arena to allow the music, and Yellen’s rich vocals, to breathe – and we witness our man teasing out echoey sounds that Mazzy Star would be proud of; minimal, languid guitar melodies and slide reflections which add complementary ambiance, and light enhancement, to his voice.
If anything, this take alone suggests that the live arena is where Night Beds work best; allowing performer and audience to be happily ensconced in the sort of direct communication that records rarely fully achieve, and where the performers can portray, face to face, what they are hoping to embody.
The official video is a visceral, intensely powerful, often disturbing affair that seems to be very much at odds with the nature of the music, creating a harmony of contradictory aesthetics which heightens the power and mood of the song, rather than reducing the sentiments of such a piece of art to the realm of dinner party music or adverts for cars.
‘You Were Afraid‘ is the flip side, and was the first song to be written by Yellen under the Night Beds moniker. It is a little busier, and slightly poppier, than the A-side, though still of a delicately minimal nature, with elongated wails of slide electric guitar and piano, underpinned by a strong, confident drum beat over which Yellen’s distinct vocal offers speculation on confused love, and that horrible place when one realises that the relationship they’re in isn’t what they thought it was, or would be.
Hailing originally from Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman country, also known as Colorado Springs to the uninitiated, the actual story, and exact identity, of Night Beds seems almost as ominous as that of ‘Corwood Industries’ reclusive music enigma ‘Jandek’, with even the artist’s main website seeming to struggle with describing Night Beds as a band, a solo project in all but name, or something else entirely.
Either way, it seems that music under the ‘Night Beds’ banner came into being sometime between 2006 and 2008, when Yellen and a friend started jamming together in a basement. After several years of doing a bit of an ‘On The Road’ around and across America – sleeping in the back of cars and relying on the generosity of friends and acquaintances – Night Beds came to the attention of independent record label Dead Oceans last year.
Since that time, they have found a home in the country music capital Nashville, where the stage was set for recording debut album ‘Country Sleep‘ in a specially constructed studio at a house once owned by Johnny and June Carter Cash.
It is due to be unleashed in February 2013, and with tour dates in the US and UK underway as we speak, it will be interesting to witness how the fortunes of Night Beds unfold over the course of the next year.
And to see how the potential notoriety and esteem that Yellen is most certainly due affects the direction and delivery of his craft.