The return of James Yuill after four years is like discovering one of your long-lost, favourite pairs of shoes in the wardrobe. They still fit, they remain comfortable and they have that extra bit of style you now vainly crave.
It should be said that Yuill’s music is not pipe and slippers material, however. It can be enjoyed in that environment, but the songs and production have always ticked the electronic box with regularity, the songwriter able to spin out a dizzying array of processed sounds and beats.
A Change In State brings an extra emphasis to the rhythm section, Yuill exploring the recesses of deeper house with his customary attention to detail. The wispy vocal delivery continues to evoke memories of Nick Drake, the vocals multitracked on occasion to form a small choir. This technique works particularly well on penultimate song Warm Embrace, with guitar harmonics used as effective punctuation.
Yuill’s vocals often inspire feelings of warmth and tenderness, right from his declaration of how he will “separate my options with a can-do attitude” on the flowing first song Cashews. From there we turn Back To The Sun, feelings of positivity extended through a chorus that burrows into the listener’s head after a few hearings.
This being Yuill there is a darker side, and this light and shade gives him a crucial edge as a songwriter, raising his music well above the routine. It is perhaps ironic that the instrumental track When In Flames goes deepest, summoning impressive power with a steely edge to the production and a reliance on minor key harmonies. Hot Damn, speaking of how “I know tomorrow is a headache I won’t shake today,” acknowledges anxiety but builds an ultimately positive outlook. Two Faces also explores hidden depths, filling an initially bright and breezy acoustic number with a foreboding electronic bass that changes the direction of the song. “Don’t let it change her,” the singer implores beneath his changing skies.
There are signs on A Change In State that Yuill is willing to let himself wig out more, bringing the energy of the live shows to record. The bubbling synth lines of Fire Breathing are allowed to dance with free abandon, while When In Flames whips up an impressive storm. On occasions like this Yuill turns from songsmith to DJ, whipping the crowd into a frenzy of analogue shapes.
Once again, five albums in, there is much to commend James Yuill on his blend of songwriting craft, emotion and electronic style, this one-man outfit doing the work of four but never losing the intimacy that give his songs extra personal meaning. The rhythmic impetus they now inhabit is a bonus, music that sounds equally at home in the bar as it does on the comfy sofa, behind which a pair of shoes have just been discovered.