At the end of last year musicOMH went a bit stalky over Night Beds. He played three shows in London over the course of a week… and we were there for all of them. The 23-year-old from Colorado Springs provided solid support for Sharon Van Etten at the looming Shepherd’s Bush Empire and Wild Nothing at the more intimate but still sizable Lexington.
On the third night he was visibly more relaxed, chatting, joking and drinking with the handful of people (mostly related to him or providing a bed for the week) there to witness his only headline show at the Slaughtered Lamb. It was a run of gigs that told us everything we needed to know about Night Beds – aka Winston Yellen. In grand surroundings his lush, modern country sound stands its own, but allow the sound to engulf you and his intricate, delicate songs take on a whole other life.
Country Sleep was born from suitably – almost clichéd – country beginnings; Yellen, having lost his job and girlfriend moved into a house in Nashville previously owned by Johnny Cash and June Carter, where he wrote and recorded his debut LP. The result is an album with Nashville at its very core; loneliness, heartache and nostalgia are the album’s key themes, woven around warm, simple orchestration, with slices of classic country thrown in.
Opening with a one minute blast of a capella, Country Sleep goes on to flit between rustic, rolling, tracks that will appeal to fans of Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes, and more upbeat, guitar-centred songs that recall Alex Chilton. Yellen wears his heart on his sleeve and doesn’t mask what he’s got to say. Sometimes that’s literal (on Cherry Blossom he sings: “In the mirror I watch myself cry, but play me a simple song, so I can sing along…in my soul I’m aching to grow, longing for a love I’ve never known) at other times he lets the music do the talking, painting wintery, desolate scenes.
22 and Wanted You in August are woozing tear jerkers. The latter is stripped of any unnecessary add ons, leaving just a pulsing piano and light strings, carving a sparse backing for Yellen’s near-falsetto vocals. Even If We Try is similar; plenty of restrained harmonies and crackling vocals underpinned by an almost chamber pop backing. But he’s not always blubbing into his pedal steel. Single Ramona looks to The Tallest Man On Earth for a faster, cheerier sound that retains the wavering vocals and rustic charm that’s a constant throughout Country Sleep.
A gorgeously warm, fuzzy album by a man wise – and sad – beyond his tender years, there’s plenty to love here, and plenty of reasons to hope we’ll be able to follow him around the live venues of London again very soon.