Yellow Days Keeps the Vibe Mellow in the Soulful 'Slow Dance & Romance'
Photo: Lara Hughes & Jay Izzard
May is days away, and the summer is beckoning us all into the fold. With warmer days comes outdoor romance and fire-fly lit intimacy that beg for a soundtrack of Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder. Those patented jazz and soul sounds have long been synonymous with hand-holding and all other attendant physical contact thereafter. But now into that well-cultivated milieu, looking to add to the culture, steps Yellow Days with his latest offering, Slow Dance & Romance. This EP promises an evocation of the heyday of soul that will get couples doing all the things that couples are typically wont to do. But does it deliver?
The track opens with what is arguably its highlight, "Soul Man." Its dreamily processed guitar sets the mood immediately, building an incredibly soothing experience for the listener. It’s a downtempo number that slows the heart rate; perfect for a romantic dinner by candlelight. Whilst incredibly pleasing, the track does occasionally feel a little drawn out. This veers it within treacherously close striking range of the dreaded realm of background music, but by virtue of its blissful vibe, it never quite lands there.
"Love and Heartbreak" continues in the same vein, dialing up the vibraphone with some time-signature play to evoke a basement jazz aesthetic. Yellow Days' airy vocals at this point are clearly echoing soul and Motown masters from days gone by. Whilst some of the choices are occasionally jarring, like the eerily delayed guitar solo, you can't deny the conservative yet deliberate proficiency of the execution.
The title track "Slow Dance & Romance" plays even further with watery-wahed guitar tones. It's similarly calming and undeniably gorgeous in its stylized way. However, it's at this point that you start to wonder if it's getting too hip for its own good, particularly when the technical dynamism of the music throws the somewhat overly simplistic lyricism into sharp relief.
Up next is "My Sunshine," a title that conjures up the likes of Bill Withers and The Temptations. This is where the EP reaches peak homage. Its staggered drum beat and delicately soft-toned guitars maintain the underlying musical intelligence of the piece. That said, the somewhat repetitive feel of the album at this juncture pushes it to idle dangerously close to the waters of muzak. It never quite gets sucked into that vortex, however, thanks in large part to a playfully coarse vibe solo that swings in to differentiate the sound.
Finally, we get to enjoy "Love Can Be Cruel." Here there's even more time-play and 21st Century hipster jazz styling which keeps the sound fresh, but at the likely expense of the release's mainstream appeal. It has to be said, again, that for a set of songs making so many gorgeous, subtle, technical choices, the lyrics feel like incomplete meditations on the idea of classic blues and jazz songwriting without engaging and embracing their simplicity in a meaningful way.
All in all, Slow Dance & Romance is a technical fascination, a triumph of production that knows how to sound damn cool whilst keeping the vibe mellow. It's a celebration of understated musical inventiveness. It's a shame then that its lyricism feels so pedestrian. As a result, it straddles a middle ground appeal between aficionados and the general music-listening populace whilst never fully appeasing either camp. Absolutely worthy of praise, but that judgment does come with an asterisk or two.
Listen to Slow Dance & Romance below: