George van den Broek wants to make retro music modern again. Under the moniker Yellow Days, he wears his heroes on his sleeve, his eccentric, loose indie pop sound drawing heavily from the sonic palette of ’70s jazz funk greats such as Herbie Hancock and Quincy Jones. But van den Broek isn’t purely a revivalist. He uses these inspirations in his music as a way to feel present in both eras, an aesthetic backdrop of old-world sounds to explore the tribulations of 21st century youth.
Take it from him: His latest album, titled A Day in a Yellow Beat, is self-described as “upbeat existential millennial crisis music.” This sophomore LP fits his description to a tee, though it’s clear from the get-go that this vision is the album’s biggest misstep. Yes, it’s undoubtedly upbeat and millennial. But when it comes to existential crises, the album keeps it frustratingly casual. This emotional distance results in a listening experience that is pleasant at best and forgettable at its worst.
A Day in a Yellow Beat is too long for its own good. The record lacks the substance or depth to maintain interest across its one hour and 17 minute duration. Throughout the album, tracks feel like slight variations on the last, relying solely on funk and indie pop aesthetics to play off as original. On their own, they’re passable enough, likely to find their way into Flower Boy radio mixes. But in the bloated track list, they are utterly indistinguishable.
The main problem lies in the writing. Too often across the album, Yellow Days’ musings on millennial anxiety are indistinct. The existential dread that van den Broek speaks of is barely present, reduced to lines such as “Well, everybody knows/ The way it goes/ People try their best/ To suppress.” Like his observations, van den Broek’s answers aren’t exactly revelatory either. “If you ever feel blue/ Well, just know/ I do it all for you,” he sings on “Open Your Eyes,” the unconvincing lyrics detracting from the song’s mood.
Where some of van den Broek’s words offer a vague sense of dread and malaise that only begins to scratch the surface, others fall victim to total cliche. Songs such as “Treat You Right” and “You” are generic pop songs that present no new ideas, adding to the album’s increasing amount of filler and lack of killer. In a similar vein, Mac DeMarco’s feature on “The Curse” is totally wasted, reduced to the occasional wailing backing vocal on an otherwise charming song.
But A Day in a Yellow Beat is not without its highlights. “Who’s There?,” featuring Shirley Jones of the ’70s R&B act The Jones Girls, is the album at its best. The bass and synthesizer groove across the track, accompanied by full multi-tracked vocals that add layers to the paranoid mood, as van den Broek effectively personifies impending gloom.
Bishop Nehru’s verse on “!” lands with confidence over the jazzy instrumental, a refreshing jump-start for the record’s middle stretch. Closing track “Love is Everywhere” is punchy and fun, featuring trills of bright keys and a warm brass section that channel van den Broek’s carefree attitude and charismatic howling into an airy, uptempo celebration of life.
Van den Broek’s latest as Yellow Days is aptly represented by its title. A Day in a Yellow Beat is like a long day in the studio with the artist — scraps, rough drafts and all. While there are a few moments when his vision effectively comes together, the majority can’t help but feel like background music for those who prefer funk and jazz as their surface level aesthetic. But there’s a deeper reason that A Day in a Yellow Beat is so often forgettable: The record is heavy on ambience and light on original songwriting. It sorely lacks what so much of the music it’s inspired by has — arguably the most important element of all: heart and soul.
Vincent Tran covers music. Contact him at [email protected].