Carefully crafted and ripe with promise, Black Yaya’s self-titled debut album is a warm throwback of a record, one that handily evokes a laid-back pop-rock past while instilling a keen anticipation for the artist’s future output. While there may be occasional moments of flatness or timidity, particularly towards the record’s latter half, the tunes nevertheless hum with a healthy sense of experimentation and fun, a quality that surely bodes well for Black Yaya’s records as mastermind David Ivar settles more fully into this still new musical persona.
Black Yaya is a one-man-band effort by Ivar, a singer-songwriter who recorded the songs near Malibu after having made some ten albums or so over the years as part of the band Herman Dune. Ivar says that the new self-reliant approach to music making also opened up room for darker, noir-ish avenues of inspiration. It shows in the lyrics, which present something of a counterpoint to the largely upbeat musical setting.
Black Yaya’s selft titled debut is a slickly produced collection of intriguing West Coast pop-rock.
While many of the tunes comfortably cruise along in a slick-but-friendly soundscape highly reminiscent of mid-to-late-‘70s West Coast pop-rock, the lyrics tend towards the absurdist and cheerfully odd. Taken in combination with the highly Beatles-esque backing vocals that pepper the record, they lend a carnival barker undercurrent to the proceedings, adding just a hint of the menacing sadness that crops up during the stranger kaleidoscopic parts of Abbey Road.
The record begins with its two strongest songs: Flying A Rocket and Glad Tidings. The former is the closest Black Yaya gets to out-and-out Beatles worship, albeit perhaps as seen through the cracked lens of Ronald-Jones-era Flaming Lips. After a swirling intro of spoken-word mumblindelivered over stuttering noise, the machine warms up and gets into gear with a rich, warm and beautifully balanced array of baroque chords changes, echoing upbeat vocal harmonies, and broad, full-bodied bass hits, held together by Ivar’s pleasant, reedy vocals.
Second track Glad Tidings presents an effective contrast, jumping forward to the sound of the late ‘70s with a mechanically tight drum part that anchors the liquid interplay between the bass and wah-wahed electric piano, before bringing in a spare and effective vocal melody. The track’s nocturnal funkiness gets a refreshing sheen in the chorus with the introduction of high pitched, glassy backing vocals, and subtle spy-guitars. Finally, the ‘70s homage is made perfect with a charmingly dated synth solo tone to close out the track.
Other notable tunes include Watchman, a strolling mid-tempo acoustic pop number that features an impossibly well recorded harmonica; the sound is high and keening yet thick, with a crispy edge to it that verges on overdrive. Perhaps the sweetest moment on the album is Through The Deep Night, which sets a melody reminiscent of pre-electricity Bob Dylan to brushed drums and double tracked acoustic guitar countermelodies to create an elegiac lullaby.
This creates an effective contrast as we arrive at the rippling guitars of the following number, Vigilante. That track brings up the tempo with a hearty, thwacking drum sound, and refreshes the sonic palette with a healthy slathering of deep, rich reverb that ably enhances the composition’s ghostly ambience. Vigilante does suffer somewhat however, albeit to a lesser degree, from the problems that prevent some other tracks from reaching the standard of quality set by the examples above.
While the strong ‘70s LA vibe throughout the record does give many of songs a warm and easygoing flavour, on a few cuts the frequent use of mid-tempo acoustic strumming over pleasant pop-rock rhythms leaves the weaker melodies and less-adventurous chord progressions a little exposed, unable to sustain their running time.
Similarly, while the vocals and lead guitar parts are notably well recorded and balanced in the overall mix, they suffer occasionally from a sense of timidity, particularly where the approach of a chorus calls for a bit more emotional energy or repetition of a chord progression requires livening up with some instrumental flair. These drawbacks never go so far as to ruin any track on the album; rather they render cuts like Lo & Behold a bit pleasantly aimless, and sap some of the energy from moodier tracks such as the lengthy closer Save Them Little Children.
Don’t let that leave a sour taste though; even during its least compelling moments, Black Yaya is a pleasant listen, and at its best the record serves up confident and beautifully mixed nuggets of melodic pop-rock. The stronger tracks do an excellent job of balancing retro pastiche with sonic experimentalism, and demonstrate a curiosity and sense of fun in the record’s production that bodes well for future releases. Black Yaya is finely made piece of work that contains in it, the seeds of a great album.
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