It’s difficult to move beyond the melodic prettiness of The Half Turn. The sophomore album from yOya is the work of a band that know the power of darkness, but who choose to carry themselves lightly, and add a lift to almost every phrase. Self-consciously avoiding the sharp-edged traps of indie rock, the distinguishing quality of this collection is that it refuses to strain towards it’s targets.
Superficially, this is a sequence that begs a jaunty little sing-along at every turn. Tracks wash in, they rise on overwhelmingly optimistic chord progressions, and they ebb through alternating tempos. Surely nothing can be as pleasurable as these songs while retaining the kind of substance we demand from serious artists?
Songwriting partners Alex Pfender and Noah Dietterich are apparently wise beyond the usual measure. Like Taoist masters they follow their nature through the depths of human experience. Lyrically they provide the kind of honest weights and measures that detail the human condition. The substance of The Half Turn is delivered with the kind of songwriting chops that feel effortless but can only be the result of incredible dedication to craft.
Lyrically this album is bullet-proof. “When The World Was Young” is a track that opens hearts. “When our bodies were new / you called the mountains, they answered you. / And I can make an ordinary stone into a jewel / When our bodies were new. / Oh, early grave what kind of trouble am I in? / I’m lost and gone away, lost and gone away…” Like the melodic simplicity the verses appeal to nuance. This awareness of scale, and the detailing of interdependence is deeply refreshing. Did yOya study in the Paul Simon songwriting dojo? The balancing tricks they perform, negotiating pathos, bathos, beauty and tragedy borrow from the legends.
The vocal performances of The Half Turn detail the fun to be had by simply singing your heart out. Technically the chops are better than average, but it’s the emotive qualities where the real work is done. “Everyone Lies” demands to be sung with the fullness of the moment. It’s not the most complicated song, but fuck, it’s one of the most rewarding.
An awareness of connected elements is best-illustrated in “Sarah/The Nearest Star” What opens with a refrain of classic love soon contorts into a confession that reveals an entirely altered complexion. Beneath the prettiness value is placed on the power of simply being honest; personal responsibility unravels. “You were never in my heart. And it’s a long, long way to the nearest star.” The line that hangs at the close of the song resonates like the smartest answer that finalizes debate. yOya know that the gravity that pulls us together can also pull us apart. In the world of yOya there are universal powers controlling even the deepest intimacies.
Percussive elements of The Half Turn are delivered not just by new-drummer Ian Meltzer, who brings a relaxed crispness to process. The polished pop of the band’s debut, Nothing to Die, makes way for an easier, more accessible sound. Rhythm guitars are used to stab at chords and punctuate grooves. Sometimes all we hear is a brushed cymbal, achieving surprise and patterns. Meltzer knows that less is sometimes more, and it’s hard to hear a misstep.
Unapologetically natural, refreshingly hopeful, distinctly human; The Half Turn is the album fans will point to as the moment where confidence stepped up to ability, and where yOya married their natural inquisitiveness with innate wisdom. This is the band at their best, so far.
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PHOTOGRAPH BY BREAD’S KID