Winston Yellen walked into the side door of the chapel on one of the last days of 2012, with a denim shirt and an easy smile, his younger brother Abe along to play drums and piano. Gregarious and unassuming in appearance, he looks like any other 23 year-old from Colorado Springs, but when he sat down at the microphone and opened his mouth to sing the a capella “Faithful Heights,” we all fell completely silent. Dumbstruck. That voice just flies out of him, with no warning.
The music of Night Beds walloped me with a colossal punch the first time I listened to it, and so far this has not lessened, not even a little bit. As someone who both deeply loved Jeff Buckley and also remembers the earliest days of Bon Iver, I feel like this guy has something in his music that could be listened alongside of both, and I would permanently give access for this music to get at all of the rawest parts of my psyche. It’s magnificent torment, this record – direct and unadorned.
We recorded these songs a couple of days before the year 2012 ended, while Winston was home from Nashville for the holidays. The handful of us in the church were speechless at the power in Winston’s voice, and the smart, literate force of his lyrics. There’s so much melancholy weighted in the single electric guitar that Winston plays here — those bluesy notes hung in the air and felt like water in my lungs, slowly accumulating. Winston floats and swims strongly through the spaces in his song, letting his exceptionally powerful voice pierce through the resonance.
His debut record Country Sleep is out today in the UK, tomorrow in the U.S. Like I said at the end of my last post of 2012, I think Winston’s efforts could be one of the most notable and promising of the year that lies ahead of us. Stay tuned for the in-depth, fascinating interview I got to conduct with Winston; his first in the United States. I hope to post that later this week.
Faithful Heights / Ramona
First off, stop what you’re doing before you click play here, because you’re not going to be able to continue doing whatever you were doing once Winston starts singing. Secondly, I like these versions even more than the album because they manage to come off even more potent and honest. We talked a lot about these two songs, which bravely open up Country Sleep. I wondered who they were about, who Winston was inviting to crawl into his arms for comfort, who Ramona was, and why she needed to fuck everything she’d been taught. I was surprised and intrigued to learn that both of these could be about him, or for him. Changes the whole perspective, in a poignantly sharp and self-compassionate way, when we sing to a side of ourselves.
At the end of our session I commented to Winston that this was a fitting song for him to play, for our 22nd chapel session recording. This song sings about hearing the trains in the August night, and that’s shaped how I picture it: on a Tennessee hillside somewhere in the dense summer heat. His voice keens like a lonesome whistle in the darkness while the percussion clacks over the rail ties. This is a darkly lush song, on a lush album.
“And I never have known / why I feel so alone…” The more I listen to the new Night Beds record, the more I feel like this line repeated in this song might be the theme of it, in a way that the movie Melancholia fought with its fists pounding against the giant meteor of depression hurtling towards earth and threatening everything we love and enjoy. The sweet piano topnotes that Abe adds on the grand piano feel almost like stardust falling.
This is Winston’s amazing take on Jurado’s crusher from Caught In The Trees (2008). Oh, I’ll be sailing on your deep blue eyes.
Download this whole session in a click. And go get his record.
ZIP: NIGHT BEDS CHAPEL SESSION