By CHAD CARTER – STAFF WRITER
Welcome to November: gloomy, cold, and gray. But what better way to combat the listlessness of this month than by listening to a recent album by an up-and-coming artist?
This past April, Young & Sick (Dutch artist Nick van Hofwegen) released his first full-length album, Young & Sick. The artist, known for designing the album covers for Foster the People’s Torches, Maroon 5’s Overexposed, and Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, as well as designing clothing for Urban Outfitters, toured with Chicago rapper Chance the Rapper in October.
The album Young & Sick is a pleasing, well-arranged concoction of R&B, electronica, jazz, and dance music.
The opener, “Mangrove,” immediately sets the tone of the album. It has an upbeat R&B feel, overlaid by the artist’s high but soulful voice in several overdubbed harmonies and punctuated by sparse synthesizer lines.
The ethereal vocals are the star of this album. The artist moves easily between falsetto and full voice, traversing his melodies with impressive grace.
“Mangrove” sounds joyous, similar to gospel, but the lyrics add a layer of complexity (“Luck, she’s on my side, it scares me to death/ If you wonder where I’ve been, to hell and back/ I am so damn happy, something must be very wrong/ When life is smiling at me why do I frown?”).
These lyrics convey an uneasy mind. The person is content, but with a nagging sense that it will go wrong at any moment.
The song’s bridge features fuzzy synthesized bass, cut with wavering electronic arpeggios.
It’s a feel-good song with traces of melancholy, a characteristic of the rest of the album. Each song is catchy, with many harmonized vocal lines and synth sprinkled throughout.
“Heartache Fetish” opens with an a cappella hook that falls into a relaxed groove. Young & Sick does some great vocal work here. Again, the outward cheerfulness of the song is juxtaposed with the darker lyrics (“You force my spirit down your throat/And leave me by the roadside, dying/Pulled apart by your grace/It leaves a burning taste”).
The third track, “Ghost of a Chance,” has an up-tempo beat splashed with shimmering lush synth chords, and topped off with mesmerizing vocals in which a single syllable is sung while moving through several pitches.
The lyrics speak of an undying love that transcends the grave (“When our souls have their bodies no more/I’ll come for you”). This song is definitely single material and has been remixed several times on an EP released Nov. 4, called Ghost Fetish.
“Counting Raindrops” is a ballad with sappy lyrics that edge toward cheesy and cliché (“I never knew two/ Could tango like you and I” and “When the sun goes under/ No one makes me feel like you”). Fortunately, a funky section helps keep the song moving. “Feel Pain” snaps the album back to life with a driving beat and more flowing vocals.
“Gloom” melds R&B and jazz: muted trumpet, brushes on the drum set, and a walking bass.
The song is catchy, but the jazz aspect feels a little forced, like it’s just there to fulfill a genre requirement.
“Glass” begins with a thick, distorted, and syncopated synth bass hook which is effortlessly woven in with airy, bubbly synth lines and pulsing vocals. This song is the most dance-like track on the album. The style of extremely upbeat music paired with dark lyrics is again evident in this song (“Found a field, lay down and cried/It’s kind of strange I’m still alive”).
“Valium” is grounded by long, low bass tones as the vocals hover above. Then, a synthesizer sweeps through. The song takes on some dub characteristics as the bass starts to wobble. The electronic parts cut out momentarily as a piano plays some jazzy chords and this time the jazz fits right in. The lyrics speak of a lover watching as the singer descends to “the ocean floor,” and the title suggests a deterioration due to anxiety.
“Twentysomething” finishes the album with lyrics that explain the album-wide disparity between the superficially positive songs and more complicated lyrics (“The sun is out, but I am overcast/ And I’ll give you polite smiles/ To hide my problems”). These lines show a transition from “Mangrove” (“I feel the best I have all my life/ Something must be wrong”).
The character has gone from knowing it will go wrong, to recognizing it has gone wrong. The whole album reflects the process of dealing with this: the songs are upbeat, the “polite smiles,” but hidden in the innocent sound of the artist’s voice are the problems. Young & Sick explores the idea of masking mental pain with a smile.
Young & Sick has created a unique style with this album. The songs are easy to listen to, but definitely not simple. The writing is layered and very well organized–it’s not that there is not a lot going on, it’s that everything is placed and executed exactly as it should be.
As the dreary months roll in, Young & Sick offers an upbeat and interesting sound, with just enough melancholy to fit the November gloom.