The music that James Yuill
plays is a curious mix. Pigeonholed as folktronica
, there’s no prizes for guessing which two elements this relatively new genre comprises of. It’s a rather clumsily melded word, coined back in 2001 when a number of these types of acts started popping up and as odd a pairing these genres two seem, Yuill manages to bring them together with some elegance.
I was captivated by his first album, Turning Down Water For Air
, which I downloaded after I first came across Yuill through the 2007 edition of the In The City album, an annual compilation of music from unsigned artists. His featured song was ‘She Said In Jest
’. I was fascinated by its peculiar, contradictory jumpy morbidity. It’s composition is not melancholic but when you listen to some of the lyrics, they can seem somewhat depressing. It includes an odd but refreshing mix of electronics and acoustics, which was a combination that I had heard little of before but really works well to give some beat to an otherwise bleak ballad and the whole album continues in this kind of vein.
Cover art of Turning Down Water for Air and the Earth and Fire remixes.
It was an album that was surprisingly well received. A quick internet search reveal analyses that were very positive and some reviewers were not shy in praising the record. “Yuill has an innate ability to sing songs about age-old subjects and still sound more modern and magnetic than arguably any other singer/songwriter in Britain” claims Greg Robson of absolutepunk
. A similarly flattering review appeared in The Guardian
, “Turning Down Water for Air is constructed of gently-plinking guitar, cello, laptop and sensitive-busker vocals, and the result melts in the mouth”.
Whilst the ingenuity of the music went almost unquestioned, some had reservations to Yuill’s vocal talents. Describing his voice as “a bit bland” and the lyrics as “forced together for the sake of rhyme alone”, The Line of Best Fit
thought the album was far from pioneering. The guys over at the Daily Music Guide
also questioned the appeal of his music. “The only concern that comes to mind - how many people will this fusion of acoustic guitar and laptop beats really appeal to and if the market does exist, is it big enough to make a steady career out of it?”.
A year on, Yuill explored this sound a little further with his ‘Earth and Fire’ remixes
. It was a novel idea that pulled apart the folktronica moniker, pushing the composition of the songs to different ends of the spectrum. The earth remixes were almost entirely acoustic whereas fire remixes were almost entirely electronic. I found the outcome a little hit and miss, but it was nonetheless an interesting experiment.
Cover art of the new album, Movement in a Storm, released on 21 June 2010.
So now comes the release of James Yuill’s second album. Movement In A Storm
starts in an unmistakeably Yuillesque style with his signature jumpy electronics under morose vocals. “Nobody knows it but its true / I hate myself and I hate you too / But I won’t tell anyone” he begins. This time however it’s much more beat driven, with acoustics playing a lesser role. The mix of the two styles is also seldom seen this time around, instead with songs focusing more on one or the other, akin to the Earth and Fire album.
That bleakness does subside and it has been commented that the album has a more positive outlook. It certainly has a more poppy sensibility. Reviews were again positive but came nowhere near the acclaim of his first record and this time reviewers were split. Whilst some found it endearing, others questioned the use of its varying styles. “Sometimes the album seems a tad more confused than groundbreaking” says a review from The Line of Best Fit
. Criticism of Yuill’s “unremarkable” voice also resurfaced. However, even considering these little niggles the record is still being regarded as a summer hit, ripe to be played in the sun of Britain's beaches.
My thoughts on the record are best summed up in a review featured in The Guardian
: “Yuill's one weakness is his unexceptional voice, but he has an ability to create melting melodies […] with enough melancholy to suggest hidden depths. A pleasure indeed.”
A pleasure indeed.